Ethics Hero: Mario Salerno

Not all the people giving lip service to “we’re all in this together” are virtue-signaling hypocrites. Some really mean it.

Surveys conducted last month estimated that 40 % of renters in New York City, if not more, would not be able to pay their April rent, which was due  last week.

This threatens landlords as well, as the shortfall will make it difficult for them to pay their own water and sewer bills at their buildings, not to mention taxes,  The 200-300 tenants in Mario Salerno’s properties, however, found a version of this sign taped up in the halls:


Mario Salerno said in an interview that he did not care about losing his rental income in April, nor care what the exact amount was that he would not be collecting from his 80 apartments.  He will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars by canceling the month’s rent, but his sole concern, he said, was trying to make life a little easier for his renters. He is even forgoing rent for those who kept their jobs and are working from home.

“My concern is everyone’s health,” said Salerno. “I told them just to make sure that everyone has food on their table.”

He’s not exactly Michael Bloomberg. During the day, he runs the Salerno Auto Body Shop and gasoline station, which his father opened in 1959.

In the 1980s Salerno bought vacant lots across Brooklyn to store cars damaged in accidents before they were repaired, and eventually turned 18 of the lots into apartment buildings. He’s counting on the auto business to keep food on his own table until conditions improve for his renters.

“I say, don’t worry about paying me, worry about your neighbor and worry about your family,” he told reporters.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Mario Salerno

  1. Great story. Decent and inspiring.

    I have been very fortunate in an industry commonly populated by fickle clients. My average client tenure is over 14 years while the industry average is roughly just 3. I suspended invoicing retail clients for 30 days and they will not be charged for work performed during that time. Life is hard enough for them right now, they deserve some loyalty for being so loyal to my company.

  2. Wonderful gesture on his part. Not everyone can do that. The picture suggests that his apartments are not in the Upper East Side so the people he was helping are probably those most affected by the closure of businesses.

    With that said, I don’t think anyone deriving rents from 80 units in NYC needs to worry about “putting food on his table”. Not to diminish the gift but I think there might be more to this story. If he is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars (plural) for giving up on month’s rent on 80 units that means that each unit rents for at least $2,500 per month. (For a point of reference $2500/month would support a 535K mortgage at 3.8%) This means his annualized rental income is 2.4 million. No he is not Michael Bloomberg but he is also not just Mario the mechanic. I know costs in NYC are high and rents are exorbitant but for that kind of dough somebody must be subsidizing some of those rents because you would need a 100K per year income to survive after paying 30k a year in rent.

    Call me a cynic.

  3. Does his money make his action less ethical? That he is able to absorb the loss makes it less generous? Did he go out of his way to make it a news story? I too am cynical, but ethics is what you do when it is the right thing to do…

    • Vitaeus

      I struggled with my comment for exactly the same reasons you pointed out. I had hoped that by congratulating his deed up front my other thoughts would not be as harsh.

      No one truly knows what is in someone else’s heart. My bias is that I seek to avoid having people know when I have been generous so when I see these pay it forward stories my inner cynic emerges. This is New York so I can envision a variety of self-serving reasons to “be a landlord hero” right now but I am loathe to even put them in print because doing so would make me an asshole if I am wrong.

      You said “ethics is what you do when it is the right thing to do”. I think you meant ethical behavior. But what is the right thing to do when options exist? How do we measure and prioritize the most right thing to do?

      If he gifts a month’s rent to all but some still have the ability to pay is it the right thing to do? Are those taking the gift when they can pay unethical? Would it not be better to collect from those that can and maybe help those who cannot longer? I don’t know. I have the same issue with the stimulus checks to retirees and those who do not work. Why do people feel that unless everyone whose income is under 75K gets a $1200.00 check then the system is unfair? I don’t get it. Wouldn’t it make more sense both ethically and economically to simply take that money and use it to replace as much lost income as possible? The current method means that people who have never really taken a hit because they are retired, deemed essential, or worse don’t contribute at all ever get paid twice while others in the hospitality and retail sectors have to subsidize those not working. I am one of those not working. Am I acting unethically if I retain the added income because it might make my financial situation marginally better if I am living on the edge as it is?

  4. Yeah, good for him.

    He could always have said, don’t worry about paying me now; we will figure that out later.

    The reality is that, at least in my state, most court proceedings have been suspended, including residential evictions. Trump has suggested that no one will get evicted for an inability to pay rent.

    So, he probably could not have evicted anyone if he wanted to.

    But, good will in business is rarely a bad thing.

    He will also likely qualify for some kind of relief. And, the banks are likely unable to foreclose on him anyway.

    The system works!


  5. “Socialism!!”

    His money. He gets to do with it what he wants.

    If more people with money did this kind of thing, government compulsion, even taxes, would not be necessary. In general though, they don’t. The rich don’t become rich by giving to those who need it, they become rich by out competing people like this guy.

    Cupidity knows no bounds now. There is no such thing as Noblesse Oblige. The only duty of CEOs is to their shareholders, and that has been interpreted as increasing the amount of money that flows to them, even if rivers are poisoned, lives destroyed, right to the limit where the costs of compliance are under the costs of the fines.

    I wish I knew the answer. Communism should work in theory. In practice, the only thing it does effectively is to increase misery, then distribute it even less equally than monopolism. Capitalism should work, but that requires rules, laws, contracts that are enforced, without regulatory capture and degeneration into monopolism ” too big to fail, too big to jail, taxes are for the little people”. Too often, the Golden Rule applies : those that have the gold, make the rules.

    Again, I don’t know the answer.

    • Both systems have issues because each person seeks to maximize his or her own interest. No participant can evaluate the exact opportunity cost of their self interested choices.

      Communism vests all decision making power into a central authority. Like a pension once vested it cannot be taken back. Capitalism vests decision making power in the individual. Some individuals make better choices for themselves while others make poor ones. Some start with unearned advantages and greatly improve their condition while others squander their advantages. Conversely, some start with nothing or less and scrape and fight for every inch of ground they win. They will always go far while others will excuse their own lack of industry on not being advantaged.

      The beauty of capitalism understands that self interest will require rules to govern rights and transactions which is why courts have been established. There is no need for a court when the government makes all economic production and distribution decisions.

      You said if everyone did as Mario we would not need government compulsion or taxes. I would postulate that in such a case a significant number of people would soon be demanding others give to them because that same self interest will prevail.

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