New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Costs Join Legal Liability as Barrier to Reopening Gyms

New York City

Gym reopening, legal liability, added costs, co-op and condo boards, COVID-19.
Oct. 13, 2020

A unit-owner wants to use the condo’s gym. Though commercial gyms have reopened in New York City, the condo’s gym remains closed, and the managing agent says it will remain that way for the foreseeable future because the building doesn’t have the staff or resources to comply with state and city guidelines. Are gyms in residential buildings really held to the same standard as commercial gyms? Couldn’t the building devise sensible safety measures, such as limiting use to one household at a time – or letting residents sign a liability waiver?

State reopening guidelines do not differentiate between stand-alone gyms and those inside residential buildings, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times, so co-op and condo gyms have to follow the same rules as an Equinox. For some buildings, overcoming those hurdles is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

Buildings with gyms that are operated by outside vendors have been in a better position to reopen the facilities quickly. “They’re motivated to open,” says Dan Wurtzel, the president of FirstService Residential New York, a property management company. “This is their business, and they know how to get everything done, and it’s part of what they do.” But most co-ops and condos operate their own gyms, resulting in what can be a plodding process. “There is no amenity overseer to snap his fingers and put everything together,” Wurtzel says.

Co-ops and condos need to meet ventilation requirements, space out the equipment and figure out how to sanitize the area regularly. The board would also need to develop a safety plan and enforce occupancy limits, which are currently capped at 33%. The building could implement a sign-up sheet, but someone has to monitor and enforce it. And that costs money.

Some buildings are more motivated than others to get all this done. The landlord of a luxury rental, for example, may look at the sluggish rental market and see the investment as a priority to attract and keep tenants. But a condo board may feel less pressure to act, especially if many residents have left the city, or if the costs or logistics of reopening are too daunting.

But co-op and condo boards should not automatically write off the facility as a lost cause simply because reopening it is complicated and costly. If the gym is a priority for residents, it should be a priority for the board, too. Ask the board to provide you with a reopening timeline, laying out the hurdles to get there. Ask your neighbors to add their voices to the conversation; if the board knows that a large number of residents want to get back to the gym, it may feel pressure to act on your collective behalf. Remember: there is power in numbers.

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