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‘It’s just not wise’: In past year, Trump’s company repeatedly paid property taxes late

July 18, 2018 at 8:00 AM

President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen in Palm Beach, Florida, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

President Trump’s company missed deadlines to pay property-tax bills in five states over the past year — and those delays cost the company $61,800 in penalties, interest and missed discounts, according to government records and local officials.

This spate of missed deadlines was out of character for the Trump Organization, which receives hundreds of property-tax bills every year. Previously, records show, it had a record of paying them on time.

But records show that between November and April, Trump’s company did not pay property taxes on time in California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York.

In Florida, the company also missed a Nov. 30 deadline to pay its taxes early and claim a 4 percent discount. For the first time in at least nine years, the company waited until January to pay taxes on the Mar-a-Lago club, two mansions and three golf courses. That wait increased the company’s bills by $23,500, records show.

In one case — involving Trump’s hotel and condominium tower in Chicago — the reason for the missed deadline seems to have been a clerical error by Trump’s company, a problem compounded by the company’s late response to the error.

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The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold takes a look at the Trump Organization’s real estate business since President Trump took office. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

But in the other cases, the cause was unclear. The Trump Organization did not provide any explanations. A spokeswoman for the company denied that any payments had been made late at all.

“We have always paid our real estate taxes on a timely basis, and to say otherwise is totally disingenuous,” she wrote. She did not elaborate.

The Trump Organization is still owned by Trump, but last year he said he had handed operational control to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

The missed deadlines puzzled real estate experts, who said that for a long-established property company such as the Trump Organization, paying property taxes should be a routine task. The bills arrive for predictable sums of money, at predictable times, with predictable penalties for paying late .

Many companies use computer programs to track upcoming bills and flag them long before they become overdue.

“If you’re a professional organization, you’re typically not late on property-tax bills,” said Matthew L. Cypher, a former real estate executive who runs a real estate center at Georgetown University’s business school. He said the Trump Organization did not seem to have saved itself any significant amount of money by delaying the payments; in fact, it did the opposite.

“It’s just not wise from a business standpoint,” Cypher said. “Because you’re just wasting money.”

This year, in the midst of other reporting, The Washington Post learned of late tax payments at Trump properties in Chicago and California. To see whether late property tax payments were more widespread, The Post checked public records and inquired with local officials, examining more than 500 individual tax parcels the company owns. These parcels include properties as big as Mar-a-Lago and as small as tiny storage spaces in Manhattan high-rises.

The Post’s search found little evidence of deadlines missed by the Trump Organization before 2017, beyond one set of late payments at the Chicago tower in 2015.

But then, late last year, it missed a number of deadlines, in several states — even while it continued to pay some of its bills on time.

There was little obvious pattern to when and where the Trump Organization paid on time — and when and where it did not. In some cases this spring, the company faced deadlines on multiple parcels on the same day, and paid some while letting others go overdue.

In California, for instance, the company made the tax deadline for only five-eighths of its golf course.

The course sits on the Pacific Ocean south of Los Angeles. For tax purposes, Los Angeles County divides the property into eight parcels and sends eight bills.

Last year, all eight bills were due by Dec. 10.

But Trump’s company paid only five. The three other bills which totaled about $21,800 — were not paid by the due date, county officials said.

The company paid two of the outstanding bills in January. It did not pay the last one, which includes the golf course’s driving range, until April 13, said Keith Knox of the Los Angeles County treasurer and tax collector’s office. By that time, the Trump Organization had also missed the April 10 deadline for the next tax bill on the same driving range.

Altogether, missing these deadlines in Los Angeles County cost Trump’s company $4,075. One debt remains unsettled: a $1,700 penalty that was triggered by the late payment in April. Because of that unpaid bill, Knox said, Los Angeles County recently placed Trump’s driving range on its “defaulted tax roll.” In theory, the county can force a sale of the parcel if the debt remains unpaid for three years.

The Trump Organization next missed a deadline on Jan. 31, 2018. On that day, Trump’s Seven Springs estate was supposed to pay $150,000 in school taxes to three townships in Westchester County, N.Y.

But those bills were not paid until late February or early March, county records show. That resulted in $15,000 worth of penalties.

In one of the three townships, the tax collector said the late bill had been paid by an escrow account at Royal Bank of Pennsylvania, which holds a mortgage on Trump’s property. The bank, which was recently acquired by Bryn Mawr Bank Corp., declined to comment.

On Feb. 1, another deadline was missed: The Trump Organization did not pay $155,000 in taxes due for its golf club in Colts Neck, N.J. Instead, the payments arrived Feb. 21, according to township records. Trump’s company paid an extra $1,400 in interest charges, the records show.

In Chicago, Trump’s company faced a March 1 deadline to pay $1.2 million in property taxes on 326 parcels it owns commercial units, condominiums and parking spacesin the Trump-branded skyscraper on Chicago’s riverfront.

Trump’s company wired the payment on Feb. 26, said Thomas Corfman, a spokesman for the Cook County Treasurer’s Office. But there was a mistake, he said: The Trump Organization had left off a required ID number, despite multiple reminders that it was needed. The number matches the company’s payment with the proper parcels.

Corfman said the Trump Organization’s bank was notified of the rejection that day, leaving the company three business days to correct the mistake and pay the bill on time. But the payment did not arrive until March 14, he said.

That required the Trump Organization to pay $17,800 in interest.

Alice Crites and Jack Gillum contributed to this report.


David A. Fahrenthold is a reporter covering the Trump family and its business interests. He has been at The Washington Post since 2000, and previously covered Congress, the federal bureaucracy, the environment and the D.C. police.

Jonathan O'Connell covers economic development with a focus on commercial real estate and the Trump Organization. He has written extensively about Donald Trump's business, including how his D.C. hotel has affected Washington and what Trump hotels will mean to the Mississippi Delta. He joined The Washington Post in 2010.

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