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Ask an Expert: Is it normal to treat luxury condo renters like third-class citizens?

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
September 25, 2012 - 3:00PM

Q. I rent an apartment in three-year-old condo building that is about 20% renters. It's a beautiful building, but the attitude of the owners toward the renters is not.  

Basically, we are treated like third-class citizens.  We can't have dogs, or use the roof deck or the gym. We have to register overnight guests with the doorman, we can't use the bike room and we have to pay twice as much to rent out the amenity area intended for parties. The staff doesn't extend themselves for us like they seem to do for owners.

The next thing you know they're going to make us take the stairs instead of the elevator!

Is this normal? Is it even legal to discriminate against renters? What can we do?

A.   Separate and unequal treatment of renters in a condo building is fairly common and probably legal, say our experts.

When it comes to housing discrimination laws, renters are not a legally 'protected class,' explains real estate broker and attorney Mike Akerly of Akerly Real Estate.   So while a condo can't create rules and regulations that discriminate based on race, color, creed, age, national origin, alienage, citizenship status and other protected classes, "there are no laws that prohibit a condominium from creating rules that treat renters and owners differently with regard to the rules and regulations that govern their building," he says.

Indeed, says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, "in my experience representing dozens of condominium boards, it is not unusual for separate rules to apply....Such variances sometimes center on smoking rights [owners but not tenants may smoke in apartments], rights to harbor pets and the placement on waiting lists for amenities such as bicycle rooms, storage lockers and parking spaces."

Akerly notes that "it is unusual for a building to regulate the use of amenity space by renters if the use of those amenities are included in the common charges paid for by unit owners."

Reich recommends checking the condominium's declaration and bylaws to see if limiting access to amenities is appropriate.

Practically speaking, says Akerly, "your only redress would be to look to your lease with your landlord. If your landlord breached promises made in the lease, you may have a legal basis for breaking it"--or at least a strong argument for a rent reduction.

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Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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