Tenant blames Kushner company for dragging feet over fixing black mold in East Village apartment
Article originally sourced from NY Daily News
"Uta Winkler spends the first hour of each day suffering through sneezing fits and using saline to clear up the congestion in her nose, throat and eyes.
As she goes about her morning, she carries an air-purifier with her from her bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen.
While this has been her routine for nearly four years, she says she only learned in March what has been causing her health to decline — a black mold infestation in her East Village apartment.
Eight months after the discovery, she is still trying to get her landlord — President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — to fix the problem.
“I’m really kind of stuck still dealing with an issue that from the get-go had nothing to do with me,” Winkler, 50, told the Daily News.
During the past year she has been locked in a legal fight in Manhattan housing court to get Kushner’s real estate firm, Kushner Cos., to remediate the mold. Winkler said the mold came from flooding caused by contractors Kushner hired to renovate an apartment above hers.
Even though an inspector she hired detected the spores in March, Winkler said she had to go to court several times before Kushner Cos. agreed to conduct its own mold test in the fall.
It took more court dates to get Kushner to agree to pick a remediator who will actually get rid of the mold — which has been shown to cause respiratory problems and to inflame allergies.
It’s still unclear when the remediator will actually make the fix, Winkler said.
“It’s harassment to get me out,” she said. Kushner Cos. did not respond to requests for comment.
Jared Kushner stepped down as CEO of the company in January when he became a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law. However, he still owns Kushner Cos.
Winkler said her suffering with Kushner started shortly after his company bought the five-story building where she lives and four other adjacent ones on E. Ninth St. in 2013 for $20.25 million.
The buildings are among the many rental apartments Kushner Cos. has purchased in recent years in the East Village, the Upper East Side and Brooklyn.
Tenants in several of these buildings have accused Kushner Cos. in court records of trying to drive them out through harassment, construction and dilapidated conditions.
State records also show that, in the past five years, the agency that oversees rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments has penalized Kushner Cos. in at least 11 instances over diminished services or poor conditions at one of its buildings in the city.
In those cases, the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal has ordered the monthly rent reduced for one or multiple rent-regulated units in the building until the problems were fixed.
“The trauma of having your bathroom collapse in the middle of the night is the most frightening experience,” said Mary Ann Siwek, 67, who sued Kushner Cos. in housing court over the conditions at her building on E. Second St. in the East Village.
Siwek has lived in a rent-stabilized unit in the building for 34 years. She said the jackhammering and demolition from construction started shortly after Kushner bought the building in 2013. Debris covered the hallways, the water pressure became spotty and the gas stopped working at times, she said.
Siwek said about three quarters of the tenants in the 33-unit building moved out. But Siwek, who lives off of her Social Security check, said she had nowhere to go — even when her ceiling twice collapsed.
Christine Davis, one of Siwek’s neighbors, also had her bathroom ceiling collapse due to a sewage pipe leak, according to court records. Davis and Siwek hired a lawyer and sued Kushner Cos. in 2014. After a yearlong court fight, Siwek eventually got a year’s worth of rent reimbursed and a new stove and refrigerator. Davis was granted rent-stabilized status.
In Winkler’s case, the nightmare began three days before Thanksgiving in 2013 — when construction workers renovating the apartment above hers ruptured a pipe, sending 19,000 gallons of water into her apartment in less than a half hour. Her kitchen ceiling collapsed.
Instead of drying out the area — to prevent mold — Kushner Cos. had a contractor do a quick fix to seal up the ceiling a day after the flood, Winkler said. Winkler said, despite her repeated requests, Kushner never reimbursed her for the $16,327 in damages to her bedroom furniture. Without a response, she said she withheld her monthly rent of $1,637 from May 2014 to January 2015 to recoup the money she lost.
Kushner Cos. sued her in 2015 for the unpaid rent. She in turn hired a lawyer and counter-sued. That case is still ongoing. But the mold, she said, became part of the legal dispute in the spring.
Winkler said the mold likely started a couple of months after the flooding in her apartment in 2013. She says her respiratory problems started then. In January 2014, she came down with pneumonia for six weeks. And since then, she has suffered through prolonged coughing bouts and constantly clogged sinuses.
She suspected mold was the cause since she was healthy before the flood. In March of this year, she decided to find out for certain. A mold inspector confirmed her hunch. Getting it fixed has been the true challenge.
“For four years, they’re dragging me around, wasting money,” Winkler said of Kushner Cos. “I’m paying my lawyer constantly. It just makes no sense and it is so obnoxious.”"