The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Donald Trump Promised Me a Waterfall and Didn't Deliver, Widow Says

 Donald Trump holds a photo of his 90-floor building the Trump World Tower,
Donald Trump holds a photo of his 90-floor building the Trump World Tower,
View Full Caption
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

MIDTOWN EAST — When Cynthia Nutt put down a deposit of $131,250 in 1999 to buy a one-bedroom apartment in the yet-to-be-built Trump World Tower, she believed she was buying an apartment with a view of a lush garden and cascading waterfalls.

Back then Donald Trump was just beginning to construct the luxury tower that would eventually rise over the East River and the United Nations, but eager buyers were already lining up for a piece of it.

Nutt, a Texas widow who was hooked by a rendering of the tranquil amenities, was one of them. But two years later, when it came time to close on her apartment, she wished she wasn’t.

The building wasn’t finished and her unit’s bathroom and kitchen had defects, Nutt would write in a formal complaint to then-state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s Office asking for help in getting her money back.

Even worse, there was no garden or waterfalls outside her unit’s windows. Just an entrance to a garage, she said.

“Donald Trump decided not to do waterfalls — they said the cold was the issue. He has lived in New York all his life — he knows what winters are like when he put that in the offering plan,” Nutt wrote in her complaint to Spitzer’s office.

“In Texas we do business on handshakes,” she added. “People have integrity about what they verbally say. I never want to come to New York again and somebody had better get my money back!”

Nutt wasn’t the only buyer who claimed the Trump World Tower apartments didn’t live up to billing. Her complaint was one of six made to the state attorney general’s Office between 2000 and 2001 by buyers seeking a return of their deposits.  

DNAinfo New York obtained the six complaints, formally known as an “application to the attorney general for a determination on the disposition of down payments,” through a request under the Freedom of Information Law.

At the time, the attorney general’s real estate finance office would adjudicate disputes between buyers and developers and determine whether a down payment should be returned or forfeited.

The complaints — most of which have never been made public before — show that some Trump World Tower buyers were disappointed with the state of their apartments at closing.

Others show Donald Trump’s trademark hardball tactics at play.

A Trump spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

In her complaint, Nutt said that from the start, the sales team for Trump World Tower made misrepresentations.

Nutt, who lives in Austin, Texas, and declined to comment for this story, had purchased the place as a second home for her and her college-age son to use.

Years earlier, she had been given a sizeable settlement from the federal government after an on-duty Army soldier killed her husband in a drunken-driving crash.

Nutt wrote in her complaint that she chose apartment 5G because of the garden and the waterfalls. She opted not to buy a unit on a higher floor — which typically appreciate better over time — because a sales associate assured her of the views of a garden and waterfalls.

Nutt said she was told that she needed to close on her apartment in December 2000. But when she did a walk-through, she found her apartment wasn’t in a habitable state, according to the complaint.

The tower was still under construction — its roof hadn’t been finished, she said. She and her son also had to wear hard hats to view and sign a waiver over possible injury before entering the building.

She described her apartment floors as mushy because the heat had been turned up in the building. She found a “big chunk of marble” was carved out of the bathroom floor and the shower door was bent. Her kitchen had a broken tile and the walls had black marks because they hadn't been primed before painting.

When she learned that her apartment wouldn’t overlook a garden and waterfalls, she asked to buy a different unit with a better view. But the sales office said none were available, according to her complaint.

“At this time I am so tired and frustrated over the cruel, mean treatment I have received — getting my money back is the best I could do,” she wrote in her complaint.

Ultimately, the attorney general’s office declined Nutt's request to have her deposit returned. And she ended up buying the apartment, paying the remaining $393,750 on the price tag.

Sources said that while she didn’t get a garden with cascading waterfalls, her apartment eventually did have a partial view of pavilion with a couple of trees.

Records show that she also sold the property in 2004 for $967,336.

Another buyer, Marianne Howatson, also filed an application with the attorney general because she said an apartment she had contracted to buy in Trump World Tower that wasn’t habitable at the time of her scheduled closing date.

Howatson, a former Penthouse Pet turned magazine executive, had signed the contract on Nov. 10, 2000, through her holding company Dunlop Development Corp., putting down $643,775 as a deposit for apartment unit 46C.

During a walk-through inspection of the apartment before her July 2001 closing date, Howatson found exposed wiring and unfinished flooring in the building’s common areas and hallways. She also noted that her apartment had no hot water or functioning heat or air conditioning.

When Howatson declined to close on the apartment until it was habitable, the Trump Corporation declared her in default, meaning she would likely forfeit her down payment, according to court documents.

Howatson filed an application with Spitzer’s office on July 31, 2001 — but it didn’t help. After taking more than two years to reach a decision, Sptizer’s office sided with Trump.

Howatson later filed a lawsuit against Spitzer and Trump World Tower, claiming that the state attorney general’s office took too long to render a decision since the usual turnaround was 30 days.

She also claimed that the air of impartiality had been tainted because Trump had donated $21,000 to Spitzer’s campaign during the time his office was adjudicating the dispute.

Spitzer’s campaign later returned the money, claiming it didn’t realize Trump had business before the attorney general.

However, Howatson ultimately lost her case at the state appellate level.

The appellate court also ruled in Trump’s favor on another case in which two Turkish billionaire brothers wanted their deposits back.

In that case, brothers Cem and Hakan Uzan had signed a contract in 1999 to buy four units in the top two floors of the Trump World Tower for $38 million and put down nearly $8 million as a deposit.

However, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the brothers wanted out of the deal, claiming that Donald Trump did not provide adequate security against terrorists for the 90-floor building.

Not all the unhappy buyers at Trump World Tower were because of the building’s condition.

In one of the complaints to the attorney general’s office, a would-be buyer sought a return of his deposit because he didn’t have the cash to pay for the whole apartment.

In that complaint, the buyer, whose name was redacted, had contracted with the Trump Corporation to purchase a unit for $4.566 million in June 2000 and made a down payment of $1.141 million.

However, when it came time to close on the unit in the summer of 2001, the buyer was cash-strapped because a tanking stock market had caused his net worth to plummet.

The buyer had found someone who could replace him as the purchaser of the unit. But when the buyer’s lawyer, David J. Sweet, floated the proposal to Trump’s lawyer, the answer was no.

Instead, Trump wanted the buyer to forfeit the 25 percent deposit.

“He took a pretty tough position to put it mildly,” Sweet recalled.

Sweet did not remember what Spitzer’s office decided in the case. But he said he believed the buyer and Trump ultimately reached a settlement.

The state Attorney General’s Office said it didn’t know the outcome of the case because it was decided 15 years ago. It also said that it no longer adjudicates these matters. 

Sweet said he was surprised that Trump wanted the entire 25-percent deposit from his client. He said that most sponsors who find a buyer in default only seek to keep 10 percent of the down payment.

“Our client felt he was being squeezed, and he felt there was no reasons for it because he came up with another buyer,” Sweet said. “It made Trump whole. And that wasn’t good enough.”