The Hotel Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave: Mickey Barreto’s five-year stay cost him only $200.57. Now it might cost him his freedom. (Matthew Haag, March 25, 2024, NY Times)

Much of Mr. Barreto’s story is corroborated by years of court records, but one crucial moment comes from only his account: On that first night, he settled into his room, high above Midtown, along with his partner, Matthew Hannan. Before that night, Mr. Barreto says, Mr. Hannan had mentioned, in passing, a peculiar fact about affordable housing rules that pertain to New York City hotels.

With their laptops open, he claimed, they explored whether the New Yorker Hotel was subject to the rule, a little-known section of a state housing law, the Rent Stabilization Act.

Passed in 1969, the law created a system of rent regulation across the city. But also subject to the law was a swath of hotel rooms, specifically those in large hotels built before 1969, whose rooms could be rented for less than $88 a week in May 1968.

According to the law, a hotel guest could become a permanent resident by requesting a lease at a discounted rate. And any guest-turned-resident also had to be allowed access to the same services as a nightly guest, including room service, housekeeping and the use of facilities, like the gym.

The room becomes, essentially, a rent-subsidized apartment inside a hotel.

Despite the reasonable assumption that what he was undertaking had been orchestrated from the start, Mr. Barreto claimed the idea only took shape when his and Mr. Hannan’s online search stumbled upon the 27th line of a 295-page spreadsheet titled “List of Manhattan Buildings Containing Stabilized Units.”

According to court documents, Mr. Barreto left his room the next morning, rode the elevator to the lobby and greeted a hotel employee at the front desk. He handed over a letter addressed to the manager: He wanted a six-month lease.

The employee dialed the manager, and after a brief exchange, Mr. Barreto was told there was no such thing as a lease at the hotel and that without booking another night, he would have to vacate the room by noon. The couple did not remove their belongings, so the bellhops did — and Mr. Barreto headed to New York City Housing Court in Lower Manhattan and sued the hotel.

In a three-page, handwritten affidavit dated June 22, 2018, Mr. Barreto cited state laws, local codes and a past court case in arguing that his request for a lease made him a “permanent resident of the hotel.” Removal of his items amounted to an illegal eviction, he said.

At a hearing on July 10, in the absence of any hotel representatives to oppose the lawsuit, the judge, Jack Stoller, ruled in Mr. Barreto’s favor. Judge Stoller not only agreed with his arguments; he even cited the same case law as Mr. Barreto and ordered the hotel “to restore petitioner to possession of the subject premises forthwith by providing him with a key.”

Mr. Barreto returned to Room 2565 within days, now as a resident of the hotel — and soon, as its new owner.