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Law Would Make Barring Tenants from Amenities a Civil Rights Violation

By Emily Frost | March 20, 2014 11:02am
 The legislation would make renter status a protected class like sex, religion or race. 
Proposed Legislation Would Protect Rent-Regulated Tenants
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A local city councilman is pushing to make it a civil rights violation to block rent-regulated tenants from using the same building perks as their market-rate neighbors.

City Councilman Mark Levine said he was spurred to action by a DNAinfo New York story about Stonehenge Village on West 97th Street, where owners prohibit rent-stabilized tenants from using a new lobby-level gym that's open to market-rate renters. He wants to establish a city law that would make this type of practice illegal.

Levine, who was elected to the Council in November, has initiated legislation that would make a tenant's status — whether it's rent-regulated or market-rate — legally protected from discrimination through the city's Commission on Human Rights.

Currently, discriminating against a rent-regulated tenant "does not appear to be a violation of the city’s civil rights law as it is constructed," he said, adding that his legislation would "create a new protected class." 

If adopted, tenants could sue or file a complaint against landlords who bar them from using rooftop pools, playrooms, parking spaces, gyms or other amenities — just as they would be able to do if a building owner discriminated against them based on their race or religion. 

Levine said that as more landlords convert rent-regulated apartments to market-rate units, the divide within buildings is growing. 

"This is going to become an increasing problem," he said. "The time to act legislatively is now."

After DNAinfo highlighted the practice at Stonehenge Village, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said she got complaints about similar tactics at The Greystone on West 91st Street and The Astor on West 75th Street, which both bar rent-regulated tenants from using their gyms.

In response, Rosenthal proposed similar legislation in Albany that would levy a $25,000 fine against landlords who do not provide equal access to building resources. She is looking for a colleague to sponsor the bill in the state Senate, according to her chief of staff Lauren Schuster.

Levine also said elected officials should insist that all building owners who get tax breaks because they offer affordable housing units put in writing that amenities and services will be open to all residents.

"At a minimum, I’d like to see that the contracts are written so that amenities are available to all tenants," Levine said. 

Levine has submitted a legislative request outlining the proposed bill, which will be reviewed by City Council lawyers. If his proposal is deemed legal, Levine's office will begin drafting the legislation to submit to the Speaker's Office.

Public Advocate Letitia James has also requested that the NYC Commission on Human Rights file a complaint against the owners of Stonehenge Village. The commission could not be reached for comment on the status of James' request.