A Maryland lawmaker has introduced a bill named for President Trump's son-in-law that is intended to stop judges from ordering the arrest of tenants who owe their landlords up to $5,000 in unpaid rent.
Del. Bilal Ali (D-Baltimore City), the bill's sponsor, called the measure the Jared Kushner Act, because Kushner's apartment management company has aggressively used the controversial debt-collection tactic.
A Baltimore Sun investigation last year found that corporate entities affiliated with Kushner Cos.' 17 apartment complexes in Maryland sought the civil arrest of 105 former tenants — the most of any Maryland company between 2013 and 2017. All had allegedly failed to appear in court to respond to charges of unpaid rent.
"It's like being jailed because you're poor," Ali said.
Under the bill, civil arrests for unpaid rent, known as "body attachments," would be prohibited if the amount of debt is $5,000 or less.
Ali said he decided to name the bill after Kushner — a senior adviser at the White House — because "he has reaped a lot of wealth off of the backs of poor people. . . . He owns these properties and has to take ownership of that. . . . He just happens to be No. 45's son-in-law."
Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Cos., said the bill is "politically motivated" and noted that body attachments are not limited to landlord-tenant conflicts, but can be ordered by a court for anyone who has failed to abide by two court orders.
Taylor said in a statement that the firm's attorneys in Maryland have handled the legal cases involving tenants in the same way that lawyers for other companies do, "and in accordance with Maryland law."
"For a couple of local politicians to sponsor a bill called the Jared Kushner Act, when neither Kushner Companies nor Jared Kushner, when he worked at Kushner Companies, had anything to do with these issues, is petty," the statement said.
Similar legislation — but without the Kushner title — was proposed last year by state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery). Smith withdrew it after judges, the state bar association and several members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee argued that some form of civil arrest still was necessary in unpaid rent cases.
Judges need to be able to compel tenants who are delinquent to provide information about their assets, these critics said, so the court can determine what they should have to pay. Smith said Wednesday that he plans to file another bill that would allow for that process, but would prohibit the practice of jailing those who cannot come up with relatively small amounts of unpaid rent.
Under Smith's proposal, which he said he developed in consultation with the office of Maryland's attorney general, Brian E. Frosh (D), and consumer advocacy groups, a renter who owes back rent would still get arrested. But instead of going to jail, the renter would fill out paperwork about their assets. Once the paperwork is completed, the renter would be let go. Ali's bill does not include that option.
"The problem we are trying to solve is people getting sent to jail because they're poor," Smith said. "Our approach is a more tailored approach to the problem of real people sitting in jail. Under this bill, that wouldn't happen."