U.S. president Donald Trump may have won Florida during the 2020 election, but it doesn’t appear that any of those voters actually had any contact with him. On Tuesday, a message was formally delivered on behalf of Trump's neighbours in Palm Beach, where his Mar-a-Lago resort is located; it told the outgoing commander-in-chief that he cannot use the so-called “Winter White House” as a private residence come January 20 when he leaves office.
According to the letter, Trump lost his legal right to live at Mar-a-Lago due to two different agreements he signed, one in the early ‘90s when he converted the estate from his private residence into a private club, and the other when he signed away development rights for the club to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In 1993, Trump’s finances were flailing and the cost of maintaining the storied Florida estate was climbing into the multi-millions annually. He moved to make it a private club, but under the agreement, club members are banned from spending more than 21 days a year in the club’s guest suite, reports The Washington Post. Moreover, they are not allowed to stay longer than seven days consecutively. This was done, in part, to assure local leaders that Trump would not turn the property into a residential hotel. At the time, Trump’s lawyer assured the town council that Trump would not live at Mar-a-Lago.
The Palm Beach agreement isn’t the only document possibly preventing Trump from legally living at Mar-a-Lago. In 1995, the deal he signed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation waived all development rights to the privately funded nonprofit organization. He agreed to “forever” relinquish his right to use the property for “any purpose other than club use.”
Even before knowing he wouldn’t be elected for a second term, Trump has repeatedly pushed the terms of this agreement and even attempted to change parts of it. In 2018, he requested that the town of Palm Beach waive a provision in the agreement to allow him to build a dock at the club. He said it was for the Secret Service and local law enforcement to be able to ensure his protection. The purpose of the dock was later changed to private use for Trump and his wife, Melania. He reportedly withdrew the request earlier this year, just three days after a Washington Post report shared details of Trump’s 1993 agreement with the town.
Appearing to openly flout the agreement, Trump states on Mar-a-Lago’s website that he maintains private quarters at the club. The lifelong New Yorker even switched his official residence from Trump Tower in Manhattan to Mar-a-Lago in September 2019, a move that could technically be illegal given the agreements mentioned. During his presidency, he has travelled to the property at least 30 times and spent at least 130 days there. At least publicly, there has been no indication that the town of Palm Beach has objected to this.
The dispute puts Trump in the potentially awkward situation of having to officially defend his choice of residency post-presidency. The demand letter claims to be an attempt to steer clear of a legal standoff and, according to the letter, to “avoid an embarrassing situation” of having to evict Trump should he ignore the agreements and move there come January 20 when president-elect Joe Biden takes office. He could always move back to his home city of New York, but we suspect his neighbours there wouldn’t be too thrilled to have him next door either.