A 55-year-old Queens woman, Zoraida Leo, was found beaten to death in her East Elmhurst home on Tuesday in an apparent dispute over unpaid rent with her 19-year-old tenant, David Vidal. Leo lived on the first floor of the two-family home on 96th Street, while Vidal occupied the upstairs unit.
Officers arrived at the scene at 5:15 pm after family members, unable to reach Leo, entered the home and discovered her body. Leo was found “sprawled out with scratches on her face,” according to the New York Daily News. The medical examiner determined she had died from an assault.
Vidal, who had allegedly argued with Leo over late rent payments, was quickly identified as a suspect and arrested the same day. He has been charged with manslaughter, with arraignment pending.
Neighbors and friends described Leo as a “kind and hardworking woman” who worked as a caregiver for the elderly and was a single mother. “She didn’t deserve a death like that,” said one friend.
Leo’s murder comes after similar tragic incidents in New York City involving landlord-tenant disputes over unpaid rent. Last month, three people were found stabbed to death in a Queens home by a landlord who later confessed. Days later, a Brooklyn MTA employee allegedly shot his tenant to death during a dispute.
The New York City Council has long had policies enabling landlords to examine tenants’ court records. But for Leo’s loved ones, no regulation can compensate for their beloved community member’s sudden, preventable loss.