Obscure rules surrounding rent-stabilized hotels have occasionally allowed savvy tenants to secure cheap rent for life. But one tenant now claims he had the legal right to take over an entire hotel — and for the moment, city property records agree.
In late May, a certain Mickey Barreto filed deed documents with the Department of Finance transferring ownership of the New Yorker Hotel to his nonprofit, Mickey Barreto Missions, and began presenting himself to lenders, tenants and city agencies as the property’s new owner. As the New York Post first reported, he says he was able to do this because the hotel’s “prior” owners, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (or the “Unification Church” for short), broke the law by denying him a rent-stabilized lease a year ago.
“I found out that I could request a lease at the hotel, and when I requested a lease I will automatically become a tenant, a permanent tenant,” Barreto told a judge in New York State Supreme Court last month. He had booked one night at the hotel for $149, shortly after being expelled from his previous residence because of an “illusory tenancy” scam, Barreto says.
“Anybody can do that. Anybody can go there and request a lease with the legal rate, rent stabilized rate.”
The hotel’s management disagreed, and evicted Barreto soon after. But a month later, Barreto secured a decision in his favor from housing court, ordering the hotel to restore him with possession of “the subject premises” — and things got weird.
“That building was never subdivided. It’s all one lot. It’s all one parcel. So what affects that part of the building called [room] 2565, whatever happens in there, happens to the whole lot, the whole parcel,” Barreto, who is representing himself pro se, told the judge.
According to him, that fact — combined with the landlord’s violation of housing law and the fact that he planned to use the building for “a public purpose” with his nonprofit — meant that he was now the building’s new owner. The Department of Finance apparently accepted this line of reasoning, and recorded a deed document on May 28 for over $189 million.
The Unification Church, of course, disagreed, and filed a lawsuit against Barreto last month. The Church’s “interest in its valuable real property, which is unique, cannot be replaced or replicated, and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars” had been placed in “grave risk of danger and harm” because of the fake deed, the lawsuit stated, pointing out that Barreto could potentially take out a mortgage on the property or sell it to a third party.
The Church, founded in 1954 by the late Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed “messiah” born in what is now North Korea, acquired the property at 481 Eight Avenue in 1976 after the previous owner’s bankruptcy. The building underwent a major renovation in 2014 in anticipation of the arrival of Hudson Yards.
According to the lawsuit, soon after filing the deed, Barreto contacted the hotel’s restaurant tenants, lender M&T Bank, and operator Wyndham claiming to be the building’s new owner. He also demanded access to the hotel’s bank accounts, and once called the FDNY to demand an evacuation over a nonexistent gas leak.
The court has already issued a temporary restraining order against Barreto to block him from presenting himself as the hotel’s owner or taking any action as such.
“Barreto’s theory as to how he and Missions own the subject property is bizarre and has no basis in law or fact,” Judge Robert Kalish stated in a decision. “At most, Barreto has certain rights to occupy a particular room within the Hotel pursuant to the Rent Stabilization Law, but this clearly did not give him ownership of the entire Building.”
On the other hand, the court has declined to vacate the deed that has been recorded in property records, noting that the appropriate course of action is to record a copy of the final court decision when the time comes.
Barreto has submitted a cross-motion seeking to get the lawsuit dismissed.
The Rent Guidelines Board voted last week to freeze rent increases on rent-stabilized hotels, while approving up to a 2.5 percent rent increase on rent-stabilized apartments.