Unequal Access Rankles Tenants

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:06

Another Upper West Side building denying rent-regulated tenants access to amenities

Upper West Side In another example of high-end buildings giving some low-rate renters short shrift, rent-regulated tenants at 845 West End Avenue recently told the West Side Spirit they do not have access to the building's fitness center like their market-rate co-op owning counterparts do.

Gloria Zicht was born in the building, and after moving around in the years following college returned in the 1960s to her family's rent-regulated apartment, living there ever since. About five years ago, many of the building's 90 or so units were converted into co-ops, and tenants who did not have any rent protection were pushed out. Those that do have protections said they've been barred access to amenities that have recently been built, including a fitness center and a children's playroom.

"It's in the building, it shouldn't be something that's just set aside for condo owners," said Zicht. "You have to have a card or a key or something."

Zicht said both she and her daughter, who lives with her, would use the gym if they were allowed to.

Zicht showed a reporter down to the basement where, behind a locked door that appeared to open only with keycard access, several treadmills and weight machines could be seen through a square window at eye-level. Next to the fitness center was a playroom that had the same locking mechanism located next to the door.

The prewar building, at 103rd Street and West End Avenue, is managed by Atlas Capital Management, who did not return requests for comment. Zicht said she approached a managing agent about opening up the fitness center to all the tenants but so far has seen no indication that they would do so.

"It just has a nasty feel to it, to set it up this way," said Zicht.

Rent-regulated tenant Phyllis Dolgin said even though she goes to a nearby gym for free, it's the principle that she disagrees with.

"I'm just finding out about it now," said Dolgin, who called the policy unfair. "I'd like management to be more open about it."

A rent-controlled tenant named Moncef Bensedrine confirmed that neither he nor his children are allowed access to the fitness center. When asked if the policy is upsetting to him, Bensedrine said, "very much so."

"Of course I'm not happy, my kids also," he said. "I live in the building and other people use the facilities and I can't."

Bensedrine said he thinks the gym facility should be free for all the tenants to use. "The rent's high enough already," he said.

A fourth tenant confirmed the practice to the West Side Spirit. "It's a fact, I'm one of them," said the tenant, who declined to give his name, when asked if he had heard of the policy.

"It sort of separates out the people in the building," he said. "I've only been in this building for about 10 years but when I moved in there was a real friendship and spirit among people in the building, and then they booted out all the people that weren't regulated. Now, people don't talk to each other in the elevator, it's strange."

Eight-forty-five West End Avenue is the latest building on the Upper West Side where rent-regulated tenants said they're treated differently than market-rate tenants. Last summer, it was revealed that a 270+ unit project being pursued by Extel Development at 40 Riverside Boulevard would include a separate entrance for tenants of the 55 affordable units that were to be included in the deal.

Building owners sometimes use amenities such as pools, gyms and gardens to lure market-rate tenants, preventing regulated tenants from enjoying the same luxuries as their neighbors. Critics say such practices amount to segregation and have no place in New York's housing market.

Stonehenge Village, an apartment building on West 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, also bars rent-regulated tenants from its gym, as does Lincoln Towers at 142 West End Avenue.

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal recently lent her support to a 1,189-unit apartment building on West 57th Street, provided that tenants in the 200 rent-regulated units have equal access to all the amenities offered in the building, among other concessions agreed to by developer TF Cornerstone.

"Every single resident regardless of how much they pay in rent should have access to amenities in a building," said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal told the West Side Spirit that she and fellow council member Mark Levine are also exploring legislative options to prevent such practices.

Do you live in a building with unequal access to amenities for rent-regulated tenants? What's your opinion on such policies? Email news@strausnews.com and your letter could appear in the West Side Spirit.