NEW YORK — A New York state judge ruled Thursday that a high-rise condo building called “Trump Place” may remove that name from its facade, rejecting an argument from President Trump’s company that the building was permanently obligated to keep it.
Judge Eileen Bransten rejected the main argument of the Trump Organization: that the license agreement that allowed the building at 200 Riverside Boulevard to call itself “Trump Place” also barred the building from ever taking the name down.
“That simply is not what the document says,” Bransten said, reading her ruling aloud from the bench in a Lower Manhattan state courthouse.
Instead, Bransten said, the condo association may vote to rename the building, even if the Trump Organization objects. She granted a “summary judgment” motion, ruling for the condo board at an early stage of the case.
The ruling itself does not change the name of the 46-story building on the Hudson River. The signs reading “Trump Place” will stay until the condo association votes to remove them.
And Bransten seemed to set a high bar for that vote, indicating that taking down the signs was tantamount to changing the building’s name, which requires a two-thirds majority.
But this ruling was still a defeat for Trump’s company, which has already seen several Trump-branded buildings rename themselves in response to his polarizing presidency.
“The court does not find any of defendant’s arguments convincing,” Bransten said of the case made by the Trump Organization’s lawyers.
This ruling could undercut a key strategy the Trump Organization had been using to dissuade other Trump-branded buildings from following suit: threatening legal repercussions.
Lawrence Rosen, a private attorney who represented the Trump Organization in the case, said he might appeal. And, if the condo board does vote, he said Trump’s company would scrutinize the vote for errors.
“We’ll be watching carefully to make sure that they dot their i’s and cross their t’s,” Rosen said after the ruling. He added: “Democracy, in this particular condominium ... requires a 66 ⅔ percent vote.”
In the building’s license agreement, signed in 2000, the condo board paid Trump $1 to use his name “for the purpose of identifying the building.”
After the ruling, the co-president of the condo board at 200 Riverside and the board’s attorneys left without comment.
They said nothing about when, how — or even if — a formal vote would be held. Previously, the board had argued that removing the “Trump Place” signs wouldn’t actually amount to renaming the building, since in legal documents it would still be called “200 Riverside Boulevard at Trump Place.”
Because of that, they had argued that a simple majority of condo owners would be enough to take down the signs.
The president’s company wouldn’t actually lose money even if the signs came down. The Trump Organization would still get paid to manage this building, as its management contract doesn’t run out until December 2019.
But Eric Trump, the president’s son, said before Bransten’s decision that the fight was still worth it.
Preserving the sign, he said, is preserving his father’s legacy as a developer.
“I will always fight vehemently against rogue individuals not only to protect our incredible [condo] owners,” Eric Trump wrote in an emailed statement. “But also to protect the legacy of a true visionary who did so much to shape the New York City skyline.”
This case could also have broader implications for the Trump brand, which adorns more than 50 buildings around the world.
In the past decade, Trump’s company has focused aggressively on signing license deals, in which it got paid to put the Trump name on other companies’ properties. But this placed the fate of Trump’s brand partly in the hands of other people: owners and residents of Trump-branded buildings in liberal cities and foreign countries.
When other buildings have considered removing the name, the Trump Organization has responded with warnings that it would fight the changes with legal action: the implication being that this fight might cost residents money for legal bills.
In the case of 200 Riverside, that threat was delivered after the condo board took an informal poll of residents in February 2017. At that time, 63 percent of condo owners who responded wanted to remove the Trump sign.
“Please be advised that [removing the sign] would constitute a flagrant and material breach of the License Agreement,” wrote Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, in a letter dated March 29, 2017. He wrote that if the board made any effort to remove the sign, the Trump Organization “will have no choice but to commence appropriate legal proceedings.”