By Ben Fractenberg
EAST VILLAGE — A man who committed suicide in his burning East Village apartment Wednesday — and who may have started the fire himself — had a history of problems with the building's owner, according to court records.
Mike Zecchino, 63, was found with a gunshot wound to the head in his fourth-floor residence at 362 East 10th St. a little after 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, when the FDNY responded to a fire in his apartment, according to sources and the police and fire departments.
Firefighters found Zecchino in the bathroom of apartment 4W with a 32-caliber revolver laying near his body, officials from the police and fire departments said.
The fire was "intentionally lit" a fire department spokesman said Thursday. The NYPD could not confirm whether Zecchino had started the fire, but said they were investigating the incident.
Another city official confirmed that Zecchino's death was a suicide.
According to neighbors and court documents, Zecchino had a history of sparring with his building's owner, Irwin Seltzer.
Seltzer took Zecchino to housing court in 2007 over $3,306 in back rent on his rent stabilized apartment, according to court documents.
Zecchino ended up paying $2,801 of the outstanding fees in a settlement, the court papers showed.
But despite their disagreements, the neighbor said it was hard to believe that Zecchino would have set fire to his apartment.
"That’s crazy," said the man. "How can you do that? There's kids in there."
One community member remembered Zecchino as a man who fought against rent hikes.
"He was a fighter," said Joel Feingold, a community organizer for GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), an organization that fights for tenants' rights. "He went to Albany to protest about the rent laws."