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Apr 3, 2015 4:30 PM

NYC board: High-rent-tenants-only gym may be discriminatory

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) New York City's Human Rights Commission says an apartment house where only high-paying tenants can use the gym may be illegally discriminating.

But landlord Stonehenge Partners Inc. said in a statement Friday it's seeking "an amicable resolution" to the fitness room dispute at the Stonehenge Village complex in Manhattan.

A rights commission filing Thursday said there was there's enough evidence of age discrimination to merit a hearing. According to tenant Jean Green Dorsey's complaint, the rent-regulated tenants excluded from the gym are largely over 65, while market-rate tenants aren't.

Green Dorsey says she's hopeful the landlord will now let rent-stabilized tenants pay to use the gym. They've been barred altogether.

Luxury buildings with separate amenities or doors for affordable apartment residents have spurred debate in the city.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

An apartment house where only high-paying tenants can use the gym may be illegally discriminating, city human rights officials said this week amid debate over luxury buildings with separate amenities or even doors for residents of affordable apartments.

The Human Rights Commission said in a notice filed Thursday that there's enough evidence of age discrimination to merit a hearing on the Stonehenge Village complex's fitness room. The rent-regulated tenants excluded from the gym are largely over 65, while market-rate tenants aren't, according to a complaint last year from tenants' association president Jean Green Dorsey.

Dorsey said being barred from using the exercise room smacked of second-class citizenship for the rent-stabilized tenants who occupy about 60 percent of the more than 400 apartments in the complex on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

She said Friday she was hopeful the landlord would now let rent-stabilized tenants pay a reasonable fee to use the gym and have it continue to be free for their higher-rent neighbors. Dorsey said tenants previously offered to do that but were rebuffed, spurring her complaint.

"You really shouldn't have to do all this to live a happy life," said Green Dorsey, 75, who has lived in the building since 1972.

The landlord, Stonehenge Partners Inc., had no immediate comment Friday.

Stonehenge Partners has said the gym was built last winter to entice market-rate tenants.

"Any impact on rent-regulated tenants arises out of their length of tenancy in the building," not their age, "and involves that person's choice to remain in a rent-regulated unit at lower rent," the landlord's lawyer, Jerrold Goldberg, wrote in a filing last year. While city law prohibits discrimination based on age, it's silent on the subject of rent-regulation status.

Stabilized tenants get valuable benefits of their own, like lower rent, Goldberg noted. The building's courtyard, laundry room and some other amenities are open to all residents, he added.

Stonehenge Village is among several New York buildings that have spurred an outcry over separate entrances for lower-paying residents dubbed "poor doors" or playrooms, roof decks and other amenities reserved for market-raters.

Galled by seeing such arrangements in developments that often enjoy tax and zoning breaks for including affordable housing, some officials have sought to require more equal treatment. Just this week, City Councilman Corey Johnson proposed to require buildings to let affordable housing tenants use amenities.

Public Advocate Letitia James and several council members, including Johnson, supported Dorsey's complaint. James said Friday she was heartened by the rights commission's finding.

"This will send a clear message: This is really just unacceptable," she said by phone. "When you stigmatize individuals based their status as rent-regulated tenants, it was just inherently wrong and inconsistent with the general principles that we all hold dear."

Developers say the arrangements reflect business considerations, not prejudice, and ultimately contribute to more economically integrated environments. Attracting higher-paying residents with amenities helps make it feasible to incorporate affordable housing in highly desirable areas, according to developers.

Green Dorsey, meanwhile, says she's eager to get into the gym.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.


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