NYC Rent Guidelines Board Final Vote Interview

I was interviewed on WCBS AM’s Drive Time about the vote of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. Click here to hear it.

Public Service Awards

I was happy to be sandwiched between two great public interest attorneys, Steve Banks and Jane Landry-Reyes, at last night’s Public Service Awards at Brooklyn Law School:

In a special ceremony, Brooklyn Law School honored public service work with awards for those in the field, as well as Class of 2024 members who have performed exceptionally by working in the Law School’s own clinics and on various pro bono projects.

The students honored at the April 2 event devoted a combined 87,000 hours to assisting immigrants, small business owners, survivors of domestic violence, people threatened with eviction, and many others in need of legal service. They worked with a wide range of government agencies and entities that provide critical public services, such as the Legal Aid Society, the Veterans Advocacy Project, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, three awards were presented for those who have distinguished themselves in public service careers.

President and Joseph Crea Dean David D. Meyer opened the event, describing the school’s public service work, including its five-plus decades of clinical work, as representing the “lifeblood of Brooklyn Law School.” Noting that housing justice was a key theme of the work of this year’s honorees, Meyer presented the Distinguished Commitment to Public Service Award to keynote speaker Steven Banks, special counsel in the pro bono practice at Paul, Weiss. Banks previously served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services from 2014 to 2022, where his accomplishments included establishing the first-in-the-nation Right to Counsel program for low-income tenants.

He also spent three decades at New York City’s Legal Aid Society. While there, Banks said, he visited local law schools, including Brooklyn Law School, and would have liked to hire as many graduates as he could. He recognized that while some students would go into public service, others would end up at private law firms, doing pro bono work and making an impact in other ways, he said.

“Whatever public service path you choose, the most important thing is to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say to yourself, ‘I’m going to go to work to make a difference today,’ whatever you choose in the practice of law,” Banks said. “It is hard work to make a difference, but that’s really what your North Star has to be and can be. Do not forget what you knew before you went to law school, when you knew there were people who needed help. Your law degree gives you the ability to provide that help, no matter what path you choose.”

The Faculty Award for Excellence in Public Service was presented to Professor David Reiss by Assistant Professor of Law Naveen Thomas. Reiss, who is the founding director of Brooklyn Law School’s Community Development Clinic, was a pioneer in “using legal education as a tool to teach practical skills, to instill in students the lasting value of pro bono work, to empower underserved individuals and communities, and to promote economic growth from the ground up,” Thomas said.

“People often assume that business lawyers are focused solely on maximizing profits and promoting corporate interests detached from the realm of public service,” Thomas said. “But to the contrary, one of my principal goals as a law professor has been to dispel this notion by demonstrating to students that business law and public service are not incompatible, and that, in fact, when properly used, the first can be used to advance the second and David personifies this.”

In his remarks, Reiss shared some advice for students: “Always remember that feeling, in a clinic or when you are doing pro bono work of helping a person. Maybe they are faced with eviction, maybe they’re faced with the loss of their home,” Reiss said. “Remember that feeling of incredible personal satisfaction in yourself of making that difference. And everyone in this room has felt that.”

Even that very day, Reiss said, he felt that sensation of helping others when civil lawyers asked him to testify at a hearing next month for someone whose home was lost in a foreclosure rescue scam a decade ago, and to utilize his knowledge of a “very obscure area of the law” to shed light on this type of case. “They needed somebody who is very specialized to explain it to the judge in this hearing, and they asked me to do that, and I was very happy to do it,” Reiss said.

Brooklyn Law School’s write-up of the event went on to sing the praises of Jane Landry-Reyes. It was also great to hear about the arc of her career in legal services and government.

Congratulations to all of the students who won awards. Special thanks to my colleague, Naveen Thomas, for his very kind words.

Owning the New Yorker

Mickey Barreto, in New York. — Photo: Reproduction/Fantastic

Mickey Barreto, in New York. — Photo: Reproduction/Fantastic

I was interviewed by TV Globo, the largest broadcaster in Latin America, about Mickey Barreto who claimed to own the New Yorker hotel in Manhattan. The video is in Portuguese, but there is a rough English translation of the transcript. The transcript opens,

After Living for Free in a NY Hotel for 5 years, a Brazilian Puts the Entire Building in His Name and the Case Ends up in Court

A Brazilian is in the middle of a controversy involving New York ‘s housing legislation . After staying in a hotel room for 5 years, Mickey Barreto believes he owns the entire building.

The confusion ended up in court . He was even arrested on fraud charges. While free awaiting trial, Mickey spoke to Fantástico. New York hotels are among the most expensive in the world and living on Manhattan Island is not for everyone, but Brazilian Mickey Barreto paid nothing.

Barreto lived for free, for 5 years, at the New Yorker hotel. And there’s more: he managed to put the entire building in his name. A negotiation made based on New York City rent law. The hotel says there was fraud.

The Brazilian, who is actually called Marcos Aurélio Canuto Muniz Barreto, managed to understand a complex law — and benefit from it.

The New Yorker Hotel opened in 1930, with more than a thousand rooms and 43 floors . At the time, it was one of the largest in the world. It hosted politicians and celebrities, such as inventor Nikola Tesla, baseball player Joe DiMaggio and boxer Muhammad Ali. In 1972, it faced a crisis and closed its doors. It ended up becoming one of the cheapest hotels in the city.

When Mickey Barreto arrived from California in 2018, he said he had no plans to stay at the hotel for long. Until he learned of an old law in New York that allowed someone to stay with all room service included and pay very cheaply.

Under the law, still in effect, New York hotels built before 1969 that charged less than US$88 per week that year — a cheap rate at the time — would have to give guests a rental contract for 6 months or more. The guest would then have the right to become a permanent resident. “The legislation limits the amount that each owner can charge for rent in New York in certain apartments. It is a 1969 law that applies to different places. And through a legal loophole, hotels considered cheap entered this regulation. Mickey Barreto discovered that this hotel is technically included in the rules defined by law”, explains David Reiss, a jurist at the Brooklyn School of Law.

The hotel resisted, but Barreto won the case in court and that was how he started living at the New Yorker. But, in addition to refusing to pay, Mickey Barreto wrote a deed and managed to register the hotel in his name, claiming that a judge gave him ownership of the hotel.

“According to the law, having possession is not the same thing as being an owner . Every tenant has possession of the apartment where he lives, but that does not mean that he is the owner. There is no legal basis for this correlation. I think he only gained in Justice because the hotel didn’t send any lawyers. And here in the United States, if you don’t send your lawyers, you’re going to lose”, says the jurist.

Already calling himself the owner of the New Yorker, Barreto went to the hotel’s restaurant and demanded that the concessionaire pay him for renting the place. He was ignored, but continued to bother employees and even demanded a complete reform of the entrance.

Real Estate Authority Editorial Board

I am happy to continue serving on the Real Estate Authority Editorial Board, along with a group of leading real estate lawyers:

Danielle Jackson | Simpson Thacher
Bonnie Neuman | Cadwalader
Alexander Lycoyannis | Holland & Knight
Meredith Katz | Greenberg Traurig
David Reiss | Brooklyn Law School
Tatiana Pawlowski | McGuireWoods
Michael Kaplan | WilmerHale
Darwin Huang | Kasowitz
Guy Maisnik | Jeffer Mangels
Stacie Trott | DLA Piper
Steven Nudelman | Greenbaum Rowe
Beatriz Azcuy | Sidley
Andrew T. White | Winston & Strawn
Cindy Campbell | Seyfarth
Brian Ashin | King & Spalding
Terri L. Adler | Adler Stachenfeld
David P. Flynn | Phillips Lytle

Prospects for a Social Housing Development Authority

I will be speaking about The Prospects for a New York State Social Housing Development Authority at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House on March 28th. The presentation will address a newly introduced bill to create the New York State Social Housing Development Authority and a report prepared by (among others) my wonderful student, Taylor Abbruzzese, a joint J.D. Candidate at Brooklyn Law School and M.U.P. candidate at Hunter College, on the same topic.

You can register here.  


Why Does a Bank Sell Your Mortgage?

I was quoted in Marketplace’s story, Why Does a Bank Sell Your Mortgage? You can listen to it here. The transcript opens,

Right after Marc Hill bought his first home, a townhouse north of Chicago, in the summer of 2019, he got a letter telling him his mortgage had been sold. He didn’t think much of it after Googling around.

“I read that was kind of normal. And then it happened again. And then again. And I was like, ‘Well, what’s going on here?’” he said with a laugh.

Recently, less than five years after his purchase, the mortgage on Hill’s townhouse changed hands for the fourth time.

“Welcome to the 21st century housing market,” said David Reiss, a professor of real estate finance and housing policy at Brooklyn Law School. Today, upward of 70% of mortgages are sold into the secondary market.

“A lot of people have a sense that mortgages work like they did maybe in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” he said. “Where you walk into your bank and if they think you’re a good risk, they’re going to give you some mortgage, and that’s going to come from money that they have from deposits.”

Sometimes that is how it works. But for the most part, Reiss said, “instead of banks lending you money that they have in deposit, once the bank makes the mortgage they then sell it to investors.”

When the bank or lender that originated your mortgage sells it, they get back all the money they lent you right away, plus a chunk of the interest you’re expected to pay over the life of your mortgage. They also get some of your closing costs.

Debranding Trump

Dano CC BY 2.0 DEED

Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted me in Posts Falsely Say Trump Name Erased from New York Properties. It reads, in part,

“We have already seen cases where Trump’s name has been removed from a property because the owner no longer thought it benefited the property,” David Reiss, professor at Brooklyn Law School, confirmed to AFP on October 4.

In September 2023, it was also reported that Trump would sell his multimillion-dollar lease on a public golf course in the Bronx to the Bally’s casino chain . . . “naming rights are often a separately negotiated item. For instance, companies pay millions of dollars to get naming rights to stadiums,” Reiss explained.

Both the Trump Tower and Trump Park Avenue, for example, still bear the former president’s name and remain under his ownership, as of this writing, a member of buildings staff confirmed to AFP by telephone.

AFP contacted the Trump Organization for further comment, but a response was not forthcoming.

While exceptions happen, Reiss noted that “generally when a party gives up ownership or control of a property, their name goes with them.”