A guest checked into the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan in 2018. He wouldn’t leave, and keeps getting the hotel’s deed transferred into the name of a non-profit he created. He’s tried to take possession of the hotel’s bank accounts and even gone to its lenders to borrow against the property. And the city’s administration and courts even, in part, backed him up.
Here’s the trick:
- Hotels constructed in New York before July 1, 1969 which cost less than $88 per week or $350 per month on May 31, 1968 are subject to rent stabilization laws. The property opened in 1930.
- A person becomes a permanent tenant upon requesting a lease for six months or more. Hotels are barred from “prevent[ing] such occupant from becoming a permanent tenant.”
Mickey Barreto made a reservation for one night at $149. He then requested a rent-controlled lease. Naturally, the hotel said exsqueeze me baking powder? And please leave.
So Barreto filed a deed with the Department of Finance transferring ownership of the hotel to “Mickey Barreto Missions,” a non-profit.
- He argued that the hotel violated New York housing law by denying him a lease and kicking him out. Requesting the lease made him a “permanent tenant.”
- He planned to use the building for a public purpose (he created a religious non-profit with his own name), and the property violated housing law, his non-profit should be the beneficiary of his permanent tenancy.
- Since the hotel was never subdivided, whatever happens to his room which he’s entitled to happens to the whole building. So he becomes the owner of the building, Q.E.D.
New York City housing court ruled in his favor giving him possession of “the subject premises.” The city recorded the deed. And he started going to retail tenants demanding payment, went to Wyndham and presented himself as the new owner of the hotel, and went to the hotel’s banks to take over their accounts and to further mortgage the property.
The hotel’s true owners – the Unification Church – got a temporary restraining order preventing him from representing himself or acting as the property’s owner. But even that judge acknowledged that Barreto has “certain rights to occupy a particular room within the hotel” even if he didn’t become the owner of the hotel. The man reportedly offered to revert ownership to the Unification Church for $14 million.
Eventually his deed for the property was found to be fraudulent. But he’s back at it having filed a new deed. He signed a document last month backdating a 2021 transfer of ownership from Mickey Barreto Missions to.. the same entity.
The New Yorker was a Hilton from 1953 to 1956 and again from 1967 to 1972. It was then closed, sold to the Unification Church, and not re-opened as a hotel until 1994. It became a Ramada in 2000, and a Wyndham in 2014. Nikola Tesla spent his last ten years living in suite 3327 (where he died in 1943) and Muhammad Ali retreated there after his fight with Joe Frazier in March 1971.
I always thought those commercials for “Home Title Lock” were kind of a scam, but maybe the Unification Church kind of needs the service? And maybe the problem with lack of adequate housing supply in New York City isn’t actually Airbnb, but laws that make it expensive, cumbersome and risky to build and operate housing?