New York Man Who Lived Rent-Free In Manhattan Hotel For 5 Years Reveals ‘Ultimate Housing Hack’

Astonishing audacity meets legal loopholes.

New York Man Who Lived Rent-Free In Manhattan Hotel For 5 Years Reveals ‘Ultimate Housing Hack’

Image: NYT

Unveiling the USA’s most audacious housing hack, DMARGE delves into a New York man’s rent-free life in one of the city’s iconic hotels.

As news that there’s never been a worse time to rent amidst a cost of living crisis that sees people giving up on all sorts of luxuries, you might not be surprised to hear that a man who smuggled himself away inside a New York hotel for over 5 years has become something of a sensation.

Astonishing audacity meets legal loopholes in the story of Mickey Barreto, a man with a flair for conspiracy theories and a questionable grasp on reality who pulled off what some have dubbed the “ultimate housing hack” in the heart of Manhattan. For five years, Barreto lived rent-free in the New Yorker Hotel, exploiting a little-known section of New York City’s Rent Stabilisation Act that allowed him to turn his temporary stay into a permanent residence.

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On a June afternoon in 2018, Barreto checked into Room 2565 of the iconic if a little faded New Yorker Hotel. After his first night, he chose to skip check-out and instead instigate a legal battle that would see him become a permanent resident of the hotel, without paying a dime on top of his initial $200 booking.

Based on an obscure provision in the Rent Stabilisation Act, Barreto honed in on an argument that allowed certain hotel rooms to be converted into rent-stabilised apartments. The saga took a thoroughly dramatic turn when Barreto declared himself the owner of the entire hotel, much to the surprise of the actual owners.

Armed with a judge’s order that ambiguously granted him “possession” of his rooms, he attempted to register the entire property in his name at the Department of Finance. While undeniably outlandish, the sheer audacity of his actions have left many impressed.

The man himself, Mickey Barreto. Image: John Taggart for The New York Times

Barreto’s story is peppered with the bizarre: He has also alleged to be the chief of an Indian tribe he founded in Brazil, claimed to be the first cousin — 11 times removed — of Christopher Columbus’s oldest son, and even asserted that the hotel’s profits were being funnelled to North Korea to finance weapons of mass destruction, leading to the admirably bold claim that his repossession efforts were akin to thwarting a 9/11-style attack.

Despite his initial unexpected success in court, Baretto’s ongoing refusal to pay rent or sign a lease eventually led to his eviction from the hotel. On top of this, his continued attempts to claim ownership of the hotel resulted in his arrest on multiple fraud counts, now leaving him to deal with the prospect of several years in prison.

Barreto’s full story is well worth checking out — it’s something of a wild ride through the complexities of New York City’s housing laws, the pitfalls of unchecked ambition, and the thin line between genius and madness which he seems to walk with an enviable swagger.