REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 2, 2024

Owning the New Yorker

By David Reiss

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.

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