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How to Address Security and Insurance When Your Building Retrofits a Gym

Frank Lovece in Board Operations on January 31, 2013

E. 84th Street, London Terrace, New York City

Jan. 31, 2013

"Most gyms in residential buildings are unattended," says fitness consultant Garner Abrahams of Douglas Elliman Property Management, who helps run the health club at Chelsea's London Terrace — a 1930s complex of more than 1,600 cooperative units and rental apartments which, because of its size and its an Olympic-sized pool "has a staff of about 17 people, including lifeguards."

Indeed, the rare co-op or condominium with a very large space, a pool, a basketball court and a children's area might consider hiring an outside management firm to run the fitness center. Otherwise, agrees Thomas Jackowski, a consultant affiliated with Gym Source, "The predominant style is an unmanaged facility." He suggests an option partway between unattended and staffed full-time. "The building can always hire a [freelance] trainer or a part-time staff person for the space just during peak operating hours. The gym may be open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. but only attended from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.," for example.

Ordinary Precautions

The presence or absence of staff affects security, but probably not as much as you'd think.Mickey Napolitano, vice president and director of residential real estate at BLDG Management, advocates using a hand-scanner for entry, and Jackowski agrees. "Cards and keypad combinations don't work because people let friends use them, so you get people in there who shouldn't be in there," Jackowski says, "whereas with a palm or a thumb reader, the actual homeowner or shareholder would have to physically be there to let somebody in."

Naturally, most experts suggest having a security camera in the gym and at the entrance. Should you also have panic buttons inside? "You have to make sure they're operating properly and who would be responding," Jackowski says. "If a panic button goes off at 6 A.M. and the super isn't in, does the doorman abandon his post to rush to the gym? … There have to be protocols in place: who's responding and when and how."

All this makes having a gym sound risky. But it's not, says attorney James Samon, a partner at Samson Fink & Dubow. "It increases your risk, so does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Does that mean you shouldn't wax your floor or build a roof terrace? You have the same concerns with a laundry room, and no one thinks twice about having a laundry room."

He advises condo and co-op boards to "have the proper insurance and consult with the board's attorney, who will probably tell you to post a sign saying that the camera is not monitored 24/7. And you should have gym-users sign a waiver saying the building isn't responsible for injuries — which often result from people misusing equipment and not the equipment itself. A waiver doesn't prevent someone from filing a lawsuit, but it provides an additional hurdle for them."

Insurers Work It Out

As for insurance coverage, Elizabeth Heck, president and CEO of Greater New York Insurance, says insurance carriers "don't view it as a huge exposure if it's a gym within a building for residents' use and the building is already secure. A lot of buildings have them now." Do you need to buy separate insurance? "If it's open to the public or if it's large enough that you have it managed by someone other than the building, then the company managing it would carry its own insurance. Otherwise it's no different than other rooms within the building, which are covered by the building's insurance."

It's no different than other

rooms within the building,

which are covered by

the building's insurance.

She adds: "If it's a small unattended gym, the type of thing that we would look for is a sign saying, ‘Use at your own risk.'" As well, "I think it's a good thing to do a liability waiver, just as buildings do with swimming pools."

Exercising Some Rules

The final step on your way to gym-building is devising the applicable rules. "We don't allow children under the age of 16," says Napolitano, giving what appears to be a standard age limit. Adds Jackowski, "There have to be rules on how to use the room, how do you clean up, who's allowed, what are the hours, how do you conduct yourself. It's a public space in a private building."

"If you want to do it right," says E. Cooke Rand, a co-op board member at a 48-year-old building on East 84th Street that retrofitted a gym a decade ago, "you have to think it through, go around to look at other gyms, talk to other boards to see what their experiences have been in terms of potential problems and potential shortfalls."

And then? "With us, it was unanimous among the board members that this was something that could be an enhancement. It's turned out to be an excellent decision."


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