Amy Sara Clark in COVID-19 on September 3, 2020
New York City gave the green light to reopen gyms and fitness clubs on Sept. 2. However, the go-ahead comes with some key unanswered questions, and the resulting confusion has caused many co-op and condo boards to put on the brakes before dusting off the free weights and sanitizing the floor mats.
“They feel there’s too much liability because they don't really know what's going on with COVID-19,” says Eleni Magoulas, president of All Area Realty Services, which manages about 75 co-op and condo buildings. “So they don't want to take that on, and they also don’t want to take the responsibility of following the codes right to ensure that everyone's OK. We have about two or three (buildings with gyms), and all of them are choosing not to reopen.”
The new rules state that gyms and fitness centers in residential buildings, hotels, offices and institutions of higher education can reopen, while indoor group fitness classes and indoor pools must remain closed at this time. The rules stipulate that gyms can be at no more than one-third of their legal capacity, that users must wear a mask and undergo a health screening, such as a questionnaire or temperature check before entering the gym. Machines and exercise stations must be at least six feet apart, and cleaning supplies must be available to members and staff to disinfect equipment between uses. Water fountains cannot be used, and gyms need to operate sophisticated ventilation systems.
Despite all this granular detail, many property managers and lawyers say they are awaiting further clarification from health officials. The foremost question is whether all co-op and condo gyms even fall under these guidelines.
“Some of my bigger clients have licenses for their gyms, and the little ones don't,” says Dean Roberts, a partner at the law firm Norris McLaughlin, which represents many Mitchell-Lama buildings. “So the answer, I suspect, is: “If you’re licensed, you have to comply; if you're just a rowing machine in the basement, you probably don’t.’ But I don't have a definitive answer yet.”
“We're trying to get clarification from the city,” adds A.J. Rexhepi, vice president at Century New York Management Services. “Frankly, I don't think the city was thinking about co-ops and condos when they developed these regulations. But unfortunately, like the city always does, it's one-size-fits-all.”
For boards with smaller gyms, two of the bigger challenges will be the ventilation and staffing requirements. For example, is it sufficient for members to clean the machines between uses, or does a staff member have to do it? “What's the definition of an attendant?” Rexhepi asks. “Is it a porter in the building who's going to sanitize the gym every one or two hours?”
As for the ventilation requirements, the larger, staffed gyms in newer buildings might be able to comply, but the DIY gyms in small buildings will likely have trouble. “That will be a challenge for most of the co-ops because absent a really well-built gym, the basement probably has horrible ventilation, absolutely non-compliant,” says Roberts, the attorney. “If the basement ones fall under these guidelines for gyms, it will be problematic.”
Despite the obstacles, many shareholders want their gyms back after being locked out for nearly six months. And that leaves many boards squarely on the fence.
“I think that a lot of board members are weighing the risks,” Rexhepi says, “and I think that they all, down in their hearts, want to open up the gyms and give back those amenities to the residents. But unfortunately, at the same time, they don't want to be responsible (for overseeing compliance) or be blamed for people getting sick.”
Magoulas agrees: “They just don't feel it’s worth it right now.”
Engage, enrage, ask questions and give answers with your community of board members. Submit your questions and comments here!
Co-op and condo board business broken down into bite-sized bits - 2 stories each week. Read now on all digital devices.
A free digital resource for co-op/condo board directors. Published twice a month. Read now on all digital devices.