A Trump Buyer's Tale of Woe

Tad Ground can see the Trump International Hotel & Tower from his office window, its wave-shaped curves gleaming in the sunlight. It taunts him, because three years ago he imagined it would be his home. Ground, an attorney in Fort Lauderdale, was going to give up the hassle of a house and a yard for a simplified life on the beach, with a concierge desk, housekeeping, and all the luxuries of a condo hotel.

"It was something I was going to move into," he says. "That's the reason I bought."

But now Ground is one of scores of buyers suing the developer of the Tower, SB Hotel Associates,  because he can't move into the building. Last month, buyers received word that if half of them didn't close on their units, the company wouldn't have enough money to open the hotel. And if the hotel didn't open, they couldn't stay there.

Of course, hardly anyone was willing to close under such circumstances, so the project is at a standstill. Corus Bank, the Chicago-based construction lender for the project, has not provided enough funds to finish the hotel, because it's lost millions on the South Florida condo market and is now facing the real possibility of going into receivership

Where does that leave Ground? He put down $121,000 on a $605,000 unit in 2006, and half that deposit was used to construct the building. He says he's entitled to get that money back."Why should someone else get the benefit of our money?" he says.

He also says he was tricked by marketing materials for the project. Unlike some buyers, he was savvy enough to realize that the infamous Donald Trump was simply lending his name to the Tower, not building it. But he believed the brochure that said the hotel had "no restrictions in use--all year-round residences."

Alas, the strip of AIA where the Towers sits is zoned for hotels. Residences are not a permitted use, according to the Fort Lauderdale Planning and Zoning Department. Purchase agreements for the Tower units alluded to this, saying, "There is no assurance that a Unit Owner...may establish a permanent residence at the Unit." The building was truly a hotel--people could only stay for short periods of time.

But many buyers, even a lawyer such as Ground, didn't realize this restriction applied to them.The project's PR folks certainly didn't make it easy to figure out. As one brochure reads: "This signature development by Donald J. Trump will become a destination for many and a home for the select few."

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