How was Donald Trump as a businessman? Well, most of his business has been buying and selling real estate. Things he did as a landlord might be indicative of how he treats people and how he might act as president.
In 1981, Trump purchased a 14-story building facing Central Park in New York City. His plan was to demolish the building and replace it with luxury condos. The only problem was that there were tenants in the current building with leases. They were rent stabilized, so he couldn’t just raise the rent to get rid of them.
Trump’s first step was send out “lease violation” letters to the tenants. The previous owner had given tenants permission to renovate their apartments, including moving interior walls. Trump reversed that permission and gave the renters 10 days to replace the walls or face eviction. The tenants hired a lawyer and according to documents at least some of the lease violation notices were put on hold.
So what did Trump do next? He cut off the tenants’ hot water and heat in the middle of the winter. He stopped all building repairs. He let the service elevator fill with garbage, and then ordered tenants to use it instead of the main elevator. He did nothing about a rodent infestation.
Trump also sued a tenant for not paying rent, even though he had paid it. A judge blasted Trump for his “spurious and unnecessary” lawsuit according to an article in the New York Times.
But Trump kept up. The building superintendent swore in court that Trump’s building managers ordered him to not do anything for the building: no repairs, no cleaning, not even any accepting of packages. Apartments developed water leaks. One leak went unrepaired for 10 months; so long that mushrooms started growing in the carpeting. The building managers also ordered the super to spy on the tenants.
Then, Trump turned really nasty. He bought several newspaper ads offering to shelter homeless people in the apartment building, in order to get the last of the tenants to move out so he could demolish it. Trump claimed “I just want to help with the homeless problem.”
Trump may dish it out, but he doesn’t seem to be able to take it. In 1973, the US Justice Department sued Trump Management Corporation for racial discrimination (Donald Trump was the company’s president). Trump was charged with quoting different offers to tenants based on their race, and lying to blacks that apartments were not available:
According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central [Trump] office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted “to decrease the number of black tenants” already in the development “by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”
Donald Trump’s response was to hold a press conference and call the charges “absolutely ridiculous“. He even took the bizarre step of suing the Justice Department for defamation (asking for $100 million in damages). He also called up the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division and demanded that they fire the lawyer handling the lawsuit against him. But a judge dismissed the suit filed by Trump (accusing Trump of “wasting of time and paper”), and Trump ended up settling the suit against him.
Apparently, Trump did not live up to the settlement, because three years later the Justice Department sued him again for the same thing. And on top of that, the New York City’s human rights commission started investigating Trump’s discriminatory rental practices. Trump complained to the New York Times that the investigation against him was a “form of horrible harassment.”