Guy Lived Rent-Free in NYC Hotel for 5 Years, Then Took It Too Far

Prosecutors say Mickey Barreto tried to claim ownership of entire New Yorker Hotel building
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 16, 2024 7:43 AM CST
He Lived Rent-Free in a NYC Hotel for 5 Years. Then He Went Too Far
The New Yorker Hotel.   (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)

For five years, a New York City man managed to live rent-free in a landmark Manhattan hotel by exploiting an obscure local housing law. But prosecutors this week said Mickey Barreto went too far when he filed paperwork claiming ownership of the entire New Yorker Hotel—and tried to charge another tenant rent. On Wednesday, he was arrested and charged with filing false property records, the AP reports. But Barreto, 48, says he was surprised when police showed up at his boyfriend's apartment. As far as he is concerned, it should be a civil case, not a criminal one. "I said 'Oh, I thought you were doing something for Valentine's Day to spice up the relationship until I saw the female officers,'" Barreto recalled telling his boyfriend.

Barreto's indictment on fraud and criminal contempt charges is just the latest chapter in the years-long legal saga that began when he and his boyfriend paid about $200 to rent one of the more than 1,000 rooms in the towering Art Deco structure built in 1930. Barreto says he had just moved to New York when his boyfriend told him about a loophole that allows occupants of single rooms in buildings constructed before 1969 to demand a six-month lease. Barreto claimed that because he'd paid for a night in the hotel, he counted as a tenant. He asked for a lease and the hotel promptly kicked him out. He says he went to court the next day. He says the judge denied his request but he won the appeal. At a crucial point in the case, lawyers for the building's owners didn't show up, allowing him to win by default.

Baretto says he lived there until July 2023 without paying any rent because the building's owners never wanted to negotiate a lease with him, but they couldn't kick him out. Manhattan prosecutors say he didn't stop there: In 2019, he uploaded a fake deed to a city website, purporting to transfer ownership of the entire building to himself from the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which bought the property in 1976. The church was founded in South Korea by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Barreto then tried to charge various entities as the owner of the building. "I never intended to commit any fraud. I don't believe I ever committed any fraud," Barreto says. "And I never made a penny out of this." Much more here.

(More New York City stories.)

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