It was a dispute over $200 in rent, a landlord-tenant disagreement that probably happens all the time in New York.
But this one had a grim climax that was captured in a startling video — the landlord dead, his tenant accused of killing him, a violent end to a story that began as one immigrant trying to help another.
Edgar Moncayo, 71, and Alex Garces, 22, both arrived in Queens from Ecuador, though several decades apart, looking for work. Both struggled to make ends meet — Mr. Moncayo was a valet at two parking lots and Mr. Garces was an undocumented laborer working construction.
In December, Mr. Moncayo rented a small room in his modest East Elmhurst home to Mr. Garces, who arrived from Ambato, Ecuador, three years ago.
He was sympathetic to the young man’s struggles because they resonated with his early experiences in New York, Mr. Moncayo’s family said, so he had agreed to delay a third of the $600 monthly rent after Mr. Garces told him he did not have enough money.
But an altercation on Jan. 12, recorded by a home security camera, spiraled out of control — a man later identified as Mr. Garces is seen shoving Mr. Moncayo down the steps of his home causing him to hit his head on the sidewalk. Mr. Moncayo was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Mr. Garces was charged with manslaughter in Mr. Moncayo’s death and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.
“My grandfather was very generous,” said Juan Farfan, 26, one of Mr. Moncayo’s seven grandchildren. “My grandfather felt for everyone. My grandfather felt everyone’s pain because he was also an immigrant.”
While Mr. Moncayo’s violent death has traumatized his family, it has also shed light on the informal transactions that are common in many heavily-immigrant communities like East Elmhurst, a hub for Ecuadoreans, where most residents live close to the bone and work precarious jobs.
“Everybody who owns a home here will also rent out rooms because there is such an influx of new immigrants,” said Diana Moreno, a director at New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an advocacy group for day laborers.
Mr. Moncayo, a former accountant and a one-time professional soccer player in Ecuador, worked long hours in parking lots in Manhattan, while supplementing his earnings with rent from tenants based on verbal agreements.
For Mr. Garces, who was part of an underground economy of nonunion construction workers , $200 could represent a large chunk of a week’s wages or two weeks worth of groceries.
“He’s not even working-class, he’s poor,” said Sanders Denis, Mr. Garces’s defense lawyer. “Two hundred dollars is a lot for him.”
Mr. Garces had paid Mr. Moncayo $400 at the start of December, saying that was all he had, Sonia Maldonado, his widow recalled in an interview. Mr. Moncayo at the time agreed, she said, to defer the remainder.
In neighborhoods with large immigrant populations “we see a lot of very informal agreements and disputes between landlords and tenants,” said Ivan Contreras, a community organizer for Woodside on the Move, a tenant advocacy group. “But they’re both working class — and they’re both struggling.”
His group, Mr. Contreras said, handles a significant number of mediation cases between homeowners and tenants that do not involve leases or any type of written agreements. Many of them are not even aware of New York’s stringent housing rules.
A recent stroll through Jackson Heights and Elmhurst revealed rows of houses advertising rooms for rent. In the morning, groups of day laborers clustered around a corner along busy Roosevelt Avenue, before many were whisked away in minivans to construction sites across Brooklyn and elsewhere in Queens.
Mr. Moncayo, his relatives said, worked hard to provide for his large family, which includes his wife and three daughters, along with the seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His respite was a visit to the McDonald’s around the corner every Sunday where he relished its breakfast menu.
He called his home “El Castillo,” or the castle, his family said, and wanted it to be a refuge for newly arrived immigrants.
“He received tenants who just come in, want to work and want to work in this country, make a life for themselves,” Mr. Farfan said. “My grandparents provided a clean bathroom and somewhere to sleep, and even gave furniture to multiple tenants.”
There were few details available about Mr. Garces. His mother, Delia Velastegui, declined to comment.
But she told The Daily News that Mr. Moncayo’s death was an accident. “My son is a good son. He is not a fighter,” she said. “He is a construction worker and he helps support our family because his father has medical problems.”
It is still unclear what specifically precipitated the fatal shove. The authorities would not discuss details of the case saying the investigation was ongoing.
Mr. Garces, who had not paid any rent for January, was supposed to move out the day before the encounter, Mr. Moncayo’s family said. He could be a difficult tenant, they said, sometimes returning to the Moncayo home drunk. He brought a woman home with him, which he was asked not to do.
Mr. Moncayo was prepared to let Mr. Garces leave without paying the remainder of his Dec. rent.
But when Mr. Garces showed up unannounced and “forced himself in” to Mr. Moncayo’s home, Mr. Farfan said, “my grandfather wasn’t letting that go,’’ he continued. “Because it’s his home and he was protecting his home.”
Mr. Garces was there to move out, said his lawyer, Mr. Denis. But Mr. Moncayo was forcibly trying to keep him inside the home, he added. “All he wanted to do was to exit the premises.
“As things developed, Mr. Moncayo was being frisky,” Mr. Denis said. “Mr. Moncayo opens the door, jumps on my client’s back. My client turns around and tries to get him off his back.”
After Mr. Garces sent Mr. Moncayo sprawling to the pavement, the video footage shows Mr. Garces leaning over the body and then quickly walking away, holding his head in his hands. He then called the police, Mr. Denis said. “He is heartbroken.”
In one of his last conversations with his wife, Mr. Moncayo told her not to worry about the missing rent, because it was not the first time that tenants had failed to pay.
“He knew he wasn’t going to waste his time,’’ Mr. Farfan said. He told her, ‘I’m not going to die over it.’”
Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.
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