Trump-branded condo tower sues for right to erase his name

By VERENA DOBNIKIndustriesAssociated Press

There was a time when brassy letters spelling "Trump" had money-making allure. But now the board of a 376-unit luxury condominium tower on Manhattan's West Side is asking a court to declare that it has the right to yank President Donald Trump's name off the building if enough residents decide they don't like his politics.

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The condominium board for the 48-story building overlooking the Hudson River filed a lawsuit last week in state court against DJT Holdings LLC, a company controlled by the Trump family.

The building was once part of a multi-tower Trump project called Trump Place, built in partnership with Chinese investors. But the Republican president's connection to it today is a licensing agreement from 2000 in which he allowed his name to be used to market the building. Big letters spelling out "Trump Place" adorn the building's side.

In its lawsuit, the board said it hasn't taken any position yet on whether the Trump name should be removed from the property at 200 Riverside Blvd. It's only asking the court to rule that the licensing agreement does not require use of Trump's name.

Harry Lipman, a lawyer for the condominium, said if the judge rules in its favor, "the board's residential committee will give the unit owners the opportunity to express themselves through a fair and democratic vote on the issue without any threat of legal action by the licensor."

In a letter to the condominium board last spring, Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten warned that removing Trump's name from the building would constitute a "flagrant and material breach of the license agreement."

Lawrence Rosen, a lawyer who represents DJT Holdings, reiterated that stance Thursday.

"The condominium has always been, and remains, obligated to use the Trump name on the building; it was part of the original deal going back several decades," he said in an email. "The current Board of Directors acted pre-maturely and improperly in filing the lawsuit, circumvented an entire class of unit owners, and acted in violation of its own governance procedures."

Trump's name already has been removed from three nearby rental buildings that were part of the same real-estate development but now have different owners. Other towers in the complex have left the name up.

A former resident of 200 Riverside, Harvey Koeppel, told The New York Times the condominium board circulated a survey last year asking residents whether they should remove the Trump name.

"A majority was in favor," Koeppel said.

Discussions about a name change were chilled, he said, after Garten's letter pushing back.

It's unclear whether removing the Trump name would help or hurt condo owners in the building looking to sell their units.

A recent report by the research firm CityRealty found that the average price per square foot for condos sold in 11 Trump-branded buildings in Manhattan fell 7 percent in the 12 months through November compared to a year earlier.

The square-foot price stayed roughly the same at 200 Riverside, dropping 1 percent to $1,586, according to the report. The average price for a condo in the building was $2.1 million.

The owners of hotels in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, and in Toronto, also have removed the Trump name from their buildings during the past year.