Meet the Man who Stayed at a Hotel in New York For 5 Years Without Paying Anything

Meet the Man who Stayed at a Hotel in New York For 5 Years Without Paying Anything
Cover Image Source: The Statue of Liberty | Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer

The surge in rent rates is showing no signs of ebbing anytime soon, and Americans are looking for innovative solutions such as living in vans among others, to save money as other costs go up as well. But as people struggle to find affordable accommodation, a New York City resident ingeniously exploited a little-known local housing law, allowing him to reside rent-free within the halls of a landmark Manhattan hotel for half a decade. But Mickey Barreto's audacious venture took an unexpected turn when he pushed the boundaries by filing documents asserting ownership of the entire New Yorker Hotel, so that he can charge another tenant rent for accommodations.

Skyline photo of empire state building in New York city | Pexels | Photo by Roberto Vivancos
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Roberto Vivancos

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His arrest and charges of filing false property records marked the latest episode of a scheme that unfolded when he and his partner paid a modest sum of $200 to secure one of 1,000 rooms within the towering Art Deco structure.

Situated near Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, the New Yorker Hotel holds a distinguished status as one of the city's largest landmarks. Its massive red "New Yorker" sign has made it a frequently photographed icon, hosting renowned figures such as Nikola Tesla and Muhammad Ali.

Image Source: Twenty47Studio/Getty Images
Image Source: Photo by Twenty47Studio | Getty Images


After relocating from Los Angeles, Baretto stumbled upon a legal loophole shared by his boyfriend, revealing that occupants of single rooms in buildings built in 1969 could demand a six-month lease. Leveraging this information, the accused contended that his one-night payment for the hotel room conferred upon him the status of a tenant, prompting him to request a lease from the establishment. The hotel, however, immediately ousted him

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Undeterred, he immediately turned to the legal system. Following a denial by the judge, he appealed to the state Supreme Court and won the case for possession of his room. Living there without paying rent until July 2023, he remained unbothered, as the building's owners refused to negotiate a lease but lacked legal grounds for eviction.

Before his recent attempt, Barreto had escalated his scheme back in 2019, by uploading a fabricated deed to a city website, purportedly transferring ownership of the entire New Yorker Hotel from the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity to himself. Founded in South Korea by the self-proclaimed messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the church acquired the property in 1976.

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Contemporary hotel room interior with artwork on the wall | Getty Images | Photo by Smith Collection
Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Smith Collection


Barreto's audacity reached new heights after he assumed the role of the building's owner. This included demanding rent from a fellow tenant, registering the hotel under his name with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for utility payments, and insisting on the transfer of the hotel's bank accounts to his control.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg highlighted the severity of Barreto's actions, stating, "As alleged, Mickey Barreto repeatedly and fraudulently claimed ownership of the New Yorker Hotel." However, Unification Church, the rightful owner, sued Barreto in 2019 over his false claims of ownership, including representations on LinkedIn. 

Image Source: istockphoto/Torjrtrx
Image Source: istockphoto | Photo by Torjrtrx


Despite the legal entanglements, Barreto maintains his innocence, adamantly declaring, "I never intended to commit any fraud. I don't believe I ever committed any fraud. And I never made a penny out of this." He frames his legal maneuvering as a form of activism aimed at thwarting financial gains for the Unification Church, known for its mass weddings, recruitment practices, and a controversial relationship with North Korea.


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