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Md. renters case against Kushner company subsidiaries moves forward

A potential class-action lawsuit against the property management companies owned by Jared Kushner’s family will proceed after a Baltimore judge preserved most of the claims.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams dismissed July 18 a breach of contract claim that was duplicative but denied the defense motion for five other counts, including alleged violations of Maryland laws on late fees for rent and debt collection.

“We are encouraged by Judge Williams’ decision,” plaintiffs’ attorney Andrew D. Freeman said Tuesday. “He agreed with us that our basic claims should all move forward.”

Westminster Management LLC and its affiliated businesses own approximately 8,000 apartments and townhouses in Maryland. Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, is not a named defendant in the proposed class-action. Westminster Management is a unit of the Kushner Cos., a family-run, New York-based business that owns, manages and develops properties nationwide.

The plaintiffs are gathering information about potential class members and then will move for certification, according to Freeman, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore. The plaintiffs are also represented by the Public Justice Center and Santoni, Vocci & Ortega LLC in Towson.

The complaint alleges Westminster charges tenants a late fee that is 5 percent of their rent and additional costs, like utilities, contrary to the law that limits a late fee to 5 percent of the delinquent rent. In addition to the late fee, Westminster charges an agent fee and a court fee before the eviction proceeding had come before the court, according to the complaint.

The standard lease language used at Westminster properties also allowed the company to allocate rent payments toward the fees then claim the tenant was late on rent and trigger additional fees, according to the complaint.

Freeman said the alleged state law violations are still occurring.

“They have not cleaned up their act,” he said.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to certify a class of Westminster renters who are or were tenants at Maryland properties since September 2014, according to the lawsuit.

Freeman said the case is “a quintessential class action” with hundreds if not thousands of potential members. The defendants’ motion to dismiss asked the court to reject class-action claims but Williams ruled it was premature to decide before the motion for class certification is resolved.

The case was removed to federal court after it was filed last fall but remanded to state court after the judge required the defendants to name its business partners to prove diversity jurisdiction.

Counsel for the defendants, Michael E. Blumenfeld of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP  in Baltimore, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The case is Tenae Smith et al. v. Westminster Management LLC et al., 24C17004797.

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