Judge Sides With Residents Who Want Trump's Name Off Their NYC Building

May 2, 2018
Originally published on May 3, 2018 11:50 am

Updated at 12:29 p.m. ET Thursday

A judge in New York has ruled that residents of Trump Place, a condominium building on Manhattan's West Side, have the right to remove President Trump's name from the building if enough of them approve of it.

The ruling by New York Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten marks a defeat for the Trump Organization, which had argued that removing the name would violate the building's licensing agreement.

The company has had to contend with a growing number of commercial and residential buildings, including several outside the country, that want to remove Trump's name.

In New York, several other apartment buildings along the Hudson River have taken the same step. The Trump Soho, a condo hotel opened with great fanfare a decade ago, has been rechristened the Dominick.

Trump Place has not definitely said it will change its name, but wanted the judge to determine that it had the right to do so. Most of those who voted in a straw poll said they favored changing the name.

After Thursday's ruling, Harry Lipman, the attorney for the building, would not say whether the building's condominium board would now proceed with a vote, but did say of the ruling, "We're pleased, obviously."

The building is not owned by Trump, but is managed by the Trump Organization.

Elizabeth Holub, who owns an apartment there, says she has no complaints about the way the building, which has a highly desirable view of the Hudson River, is run.

"The reality is, it's the best-run building. It's unbelievable. Every member of the staff. There's no better place in the world to raise a family," Holub says.

Still, she wishes it were named something other than Trump.

"Look, I can't stand Donald Trump. I'm sorry he's the president. I don't support his policies," she adds.

The view is shared by residents of other Trump buildings across Manhattan, such as the 72-story Trump World Tower, on the East Side, near the United Nations.

"I have to explain to everybody who comes to visit me that I'm sorry about the name on the building, that I live there doesn't constitute any kind of endorsement," says James Tufenkian, who heads a New York carpet company and lives in the building.

Despite that, Tufenkian loves everything about the building, noting it has great views, a helpful and accommodating staff and is very well managed.

The movement to de-Trump buildings reflects a political reality: New York may be the place Donald Trump calls home and made his fortune, but he remains distinctly unpopular in much of the city and lost the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton by a landslide there.

There are signs his unpopularity is affecting the value of his properties.

While real estate prices have softened in much of New York over the past two years, especially at the high end, some evidence suggests that the Trump name can hurt sales even further.

One business official with deep knowledge of the real estate industry, who didn't want to be named for fear of losing business, said there's no question Trump apartments are sitting on the market longer than they used to.

Even Trump Tower has recorded many fewer sales so far this year than it did during previous periods in 2016 and 2017, the official said.

As the home of the president, Trump Tower is guarded by the Secret Service, and residents have to endure intense security measures, which may have temporarily scared some buyers away.

But there are signs other Trump buildings in the city may also be losing value.

The online brokerage firm Zumper has studied rental prices at Trump buildings. Nathan Tondow, managing broker at the firm's New York office, says in most cases, Trump buildings now fetch somewhat lower rents and sit on the market longer than they did two years ago.

More recently, the differences have narrowed, although Tondow says that may be due to seasonable factors.

This being New York, good apartments are always in short supply, and prospective tenants will always snatch up good deals, even when they're named Trump, he says. But the Trump name does matter in some cases.

"We've had rental clients who didn't want to see buildings, because they did have the Trump name on them. And we tried to explain that it is owned by someone else. It's just the Trump name. And they say, "I know. But walking into that everyday just feels wrong."

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment. But the company has pushed back against the lawsuit by 200 Riverside Blvd., insisting that the building is obligated to use the Trump name.

Before Thursday's ruling, the president's son, Eric Trump, told David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, "I will always fight vehemently against rogue individuals not only to protect our incredible owners but also to protect the legacy of a true visionary who did so much to shape the New York City skyline."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you drive on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, you cannot help but notice Trump Place looming over the skyline. It is one of several buildings in New York bearing Donald Trump's name. Well, tomorrow, residents will ask a judge to let them change their building's name. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports on how the Trump brand is losing its luster in the city he's from.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: A dozen years ago, James Tufenkian noticed a really nice building going up in his neighborhood on Manhattan's East Side. He went inside and loved what he saw. Just about the only thing he didn't like was the name - Trump World Tower.

JAMES TUFENKIAN: It was kind of detestable (laughter). You know, even at that time, I didn't like the idea of being in a building with his name on it, but it didn't have nearly the significance that it does now.

ZARROLI: Tufenkian, who heads a carpet company, still lives in the building. And he loves it - great staff, nice views, very well-managed. He just doesn't like that name.

TUFENKIAN: But look, I have lots of people - I have to explain to everybody who comes to visit me that I'm sorry about the name on the building. You know, just that I live there doesn't constitute any kind of endorsement.

ZARROLI: President Trump doesn't own Trump World Tower, but his company manages it. And, of course, it bears his name. And there are signs that name has become something of a liability. That is also true at Trump's signature property, Trump Tower, where the president and his family have long lived.

Jonathan Miller, who runs an appraisal firm in New York, says there are a lot of newer luxury buildings in the city, and they've eclipsed Trump Tower.

JONATHAN MILLER: It's no longer the top tier of the market because this new product has changed all that.

ZARROLI: And he says the intense security at the building since the election probably discourages some buyers.

MILLER: That has the potential to impact values in the building.

ZARROLI: But even in other Trump buildings where security isn't an issue, Trump's unpopularity may be hurting property values. The online brokerage firm Zumper compared rents in Trump buildings to others in the city. They found that in most cases, Trump apartments sat on the market longer and fetched lower prices.

Managing broker Nathan Tondow says if an apartment is a good deal, even with the Trump name, people will still want to live in it. But the name does matter.

NATHAN TONDOW: We've had rental clients who didn't want to see buildings because they did have a Trump name on them. And we try to explain that it is owned by someone else. It's just the Trump name. And then they said, I know, but walking into that everyday just feels wrong.

ZARROLI: Real estate prices have softened in New York, especially at the high end, so that may be a factor in what's happening. But some buildings clearly see Trump's name as a liability. Trump properties in Canada and Panama have rebranded themselves. In New York, the Trump Soho is now the Dominick. Three Upper West Side buildings have dropped the Trump name.

And tomorrow, a condo building at 200 Riverside Blvd. will ask a judge for the right to do so as well. The building's lawyer declined to comment. Elizabeth Holub, who lives in Trump Place, says the irony is it's a really nice place to live.

ELIZABETH HOLUB: The truth of the matter is that it is - look, I can't stand Donald Trump. I'm sorry. He's the president. I don't support his policies. The reality is it's the best run building.

ZARROLI: The building is managed by the Trump Organization, which opposes the name change. Eric Trump has said the effort is being spearheaded by a few rogue residents, but a straw poll in the building suggests most residents support the change.

President Trump spent years building up his brand, but for some people in the city where he grew rich, that brand has become toxic. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.