Tenants Claim Discrimination in Fees for Gym Access

The newly opened gym is at the center of a dispute over access by Independence Plaza tenants who do not pay market-rate rents. Photo: Aline Reynolds/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 03, 2013

Longtime tenants of Tribeca’s Inde­pendence Plaza North are railing against their landlord’s membership policy for the complex’s newly opened gym.

After numerous complaints, the co-owner of IPN has reversed a controversial rule that initially restricted access to the gym and children’s play space to “market rate” tenants, barring access to  those paying reduced or government-subsidized rents. It now says it wants to charge non-market-rate tenants an annual fee—a decision that the Tenant Association maintains is still discriminatory.

Following IPN’s removal from the state’s Mitchell-Lama Housing Program in 2004, tenants of the Greenwich Street complex have fallen into three categories: those who pay market-rate rents, and those who moved in before 2004 and are either paying lower rents as part of the Landlord Assisted Program (LAP) or  receiving vouchers from the government’s Section 8 Housing Program.

The facility opened in mid-May on the second floor of IPN’s 40 Harrison Street building. As of the end of May, non-market-rate tenants were still waiting for information on how and when they could start using the gym. 

According to its latest decision, market-rate tenants can get in for free while LAP and voucher tenants will have to pay to use the facilities—an amount as yet to be determined.

A spokesperson for Stellar Man­agement declined to comment on the revised policy.

(According to a Stellar Management employee, the message to non-market-rate tenants that they could not use the gym was the result of a “miscommunication” among Stellar staff members.)

Diane Lapson, the IPN Tenant Association president who met with Stellar representatives on May 23, said management is justifying the rule by saying that the annual fee is built into the leases of current market-rate tenants.

Lapson and others believe the policy discriminates against non-market-rate tenants. The gym, she said, is “an amenity for the residents who live here—it has to be equitable so that all people are paying the same amount of money, even if it’s just a question of them writing [the fair-market tenants’] lease a little differently.”

“I explained why I think the human rights law makes what they’re proposing illegal,” said Tenant Association Vice President Ed Rosner, who also attended the May 23 meeting. He cited a citywide law that states that discriminating against people based on their source of income, in terms of a “housing accommodation” or “the furnishing of facilities or services,” is illegal.

Asked about the legality of Stellar’s policy, Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the city’s Commission on Human Rights, said, “We would definitely look at this and investigate it... It sounds like they’re trying to get around having these people use the gym.”

Some IPN tenants believe Stellar’s dual policy drives a wedge between the residents of IPN.

“There’s this sort of attitude by the higher management...that we are not desirable,” said a longtime tenant who asked not to be identified. ‘Let’s keep the riff-raff out of the gym,’ is how it feels.”