Trump Says Landlords Should be Lenient to Federal Workers Who Can't Pay Rent, but He Treated His Own Tenants Very Differently

Trump Said Landlords Should be Lenient to Federal Workers who Can't Pay Rent, but he Treats his own Tenants Very Differently
Framed photographs of U.S. President Donald Trump's parents, Fred and Mary Trump, sit on a table in the Oval Office while the president meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the White House August 28, 2018, in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On the 14th day of the partial government shutdown Friday, President Donald Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden that landlords and bill collectors should be "nice and easy" to the roughly 800,000 federal workers now forgoing paychecks, suggesting they be offered leniency. But as a landlord in the 1990s, Trump treated his own tenants very differently.

"I would encourage them to be nice and easy," he said Friday. The president went on, saying "I think they will."

"I've been a landlord for a long time. I've been in the real estate business a long time," Trump said. "When you see their problems out there, their difficulties out there – the people are all good for the money – [landlords] work with the people."

The Office of Personnel Management released draft letters last month for federal employees who will struggle to pay rent during the shutdown to provide to their landlords. One of the letters the office suggested read: "I will keep in touch with you to keep you informed about my income status and I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments."

Despite the president's suggestions for landlords to offer leniency, his own business record paints the contrasting image of a New York landlord who usually took all he could from anyone he could, including business practices that one report alleges raised rents for some of the tenants most in need.

Specifically, he is accused of repeatedly reaping the benefits of tax schemes at the expense of his tenants, causing rent prices to artificially increase for the rent-regulated units that usually go to poorer New Yorkers.

An extensive New York Times investigation published in October detailed the accusation the Trumps used a fake company to pay building vendors that did work for Trump-owned apartment buildings in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island, in the 1990s, allowing their father, Fred Trump, to pay back the costs at a higher rate. Essentially, the report alleges, it allowed the Trump siblings to skirt paying taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars gifted to them from their parents.

A follow-up investigation published by the paper last month detailed the results of the tax dodging scheme, which through the use of "improvement costs," allowed the Trumps to inflate the prices of tenants' rent-regulated apartments, sometimes increasing them year after year. The apartment buildings were originally designed as affordable housing intended for middle class people.

Trump's brother, Robert, admitted in a sworn deposition that, "the higher the markup would be, the higher the rent that might be charged," according to The Times.

Trump's attorney, Charles Harder, denied the allegations in a statement to The Times, saying the "allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false, and highly defamatory."

Tenants who The Times spoke with for the investigation were frustrated to learn of the tax dodging scheme that led to higher costs for them.

"If they passed on phony costs to tenants, they should lower our rents," tenant Jack Leitner said.

The New York buildings are no longer owned by the Trumps, but the previously inflated prices have caused the current rent rates to be much higher than they otherwise should be.

Angel Castillo, another man who spoke with The Times, was a former tenant of one of the buildings once owned by the Trump family. But he moved out after the current landlord raised his monthly rent by $150 a month.

"I want it looked at because a lot of tenants may be owed money," he said. "They told me I was lucky it wasn't more."