At the time of his death, Todd Brassner, 67, owed $90,000 in overdue maintenance fees to President Trump’s building. Trump Organization lawyer Sonja Talesnik filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week to recover the money.
Brassner died when his 50th-floor Trump Tower apartment caught fire on April 7. The cause of the fire was determined to be overloaded power strips. The apartment had no smoke detectors, but they aren’t required by law.
President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and son Barron were in Washington, D.C., when the fire broke out.
Brassner, a former art dealer for Andy Warhol who kept $3 million of art inside his apartment, was in ill health, had declared bankruptcy in 2015 and had tried to sell his Trump Tower apartment since President Trump’s election in November 2016. Amid increased scrutiny and security surrounding the building, he found no buyers, despite a booming economy that has stoked a surge in the luxury real estate market.
“It haunts me,” said Stephen Dwire, Brassner’s friend since childhood, in the New York Times. “He said, ‘This is getting untenable.’ It was like living in an armed camp. But when people heard it was a Trump building, he couldn’t give it away.”
Brassner moved into Trump Tower in 1996. He owned hundreds of vintage instruments and was known as an “utter expert on Pop Art” who was “constantly swapping, buying and selling,” the Washington Post reports.
Trump Tower was built in 1983. At that time, sprinkler systems were not required in New York City apartments. After a spate of high-rise fires, in 1999 the city mandated them in new or extensively renovated buildings. “Real estate developers, including Mr. Trump, fought the sprinklers, arguing that they were unnecessary and would add $4 per square foot to the cost of an apartment,” the Times reports.
“Some speculated that the April fire could have been mitigated,” if Trump Tower had a sprinkler system, the Post said.
Trump Tower’s construction has been controversial from its start. The building was erected after the demolition of the Fifth Avenue Bonwit Teller store, which had two expansive Art Deco friezes in its facade. Trump promised the historical pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but then had them destroyed, dismaying historians.
Since Trump’s presidential campaign began, it has emerged that Trump employed many undocumented immigrants during Trump Tower’s construction, a group he has railed against in speeches and policy as a candidate and president. Trump paid his undocumented workers $4 an hour during construction, then quietly paid $1.4 million to settle a class action suit in 1998, Newsweek reported.