Volume 74, Number 45 | March 16 - 22, 2005

Fears of Big Brother over Peter Cooper ID key cards

By Albert Amateau

Peter Cooper Village tenants who are resisting their landlord’s move to replace all locks and keys in the 2,700-unit development with photo ID data-tracking keycards have enlisted the support of Assemblymember Steve Sanders as a threatened deadline approaches.

MetLife, the owner of Peter Cooper Village between First Ave. and the East River from 20th to 23rd Sts., as well as the adjacent Stuyvesant Town to the south, has told Peter Cooper tenants that it would begin removing lock cylinders from all 21 buildings in the complex on March 30. The keycard plan is only for Peter Cooper Village.

Jack Lester, attorney for the tenants association, said he would seek an injunction in Manhattan State Supreme Court on March 21 against the threatened removal of the cylinders. Lester indicated that tenants who are locked out because of the change are likely to start a rent strike.

But Rick Shea, a spokesperson for MetLife, said on March 15 that no one would be locked out. “It would be as if you lost your keys,” he said, “you would identify yourself to security who would buzz you in.”

MetLife has said the keycard system would raise the level of security. But tenant association leaders and Sanders said it is more surveillance than security. “The owner has no lawful right under existing leases or housing law to install the surveillance system and lock out tenants who do not submit to the demands of MetLife,” said Sanders. “What’s next, a yellow star on tenants’ clothing to identify them as lawful tenants?” he added.

“We think it could mean less security if identity thieves manage to get hold of the cards,” said Al Doyle, president of the Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association.

Tenants were told on March 10 that they and anyone they want to have access to their apartments including relatives, home health aides, housekeepers or friends would have to be photographed for their own cards, which would record the date and time of entries to the complex. Tenants without the cards would not be able to enter their laundry rooms.

“This all began around November 2003, but MetLife’s communications with tenants has not been crystal clear, and has often been vague or misleading,” said Doyle. “They said they would store the data-tracking information, but we don’t know how long or for what purpose. I would say the overwhelming majority of Peter Cooper Village tenants are against it,” he added. Until last week, it wasn’t clear that every person a tenant wanted to have access to the apartment had to get a keycard with his or her photo ID, Doyle said.

Shea, however, said there would be convenient places in the complex for people to register for key cards. Tenants would also be able to arrange for out-of-town visitors by phoning the management office and identifying the visitor to be admitted, Shea added.

MetLife built Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town after World War II and opened the two complexes in 1947 as affordable housing geared to returning veterans and their families.

Private landlords of affordable housing often try to convince tenants to submit to photos and furnish other identity papers in order to expose occupants who have subleased apartments illegally.

Shea said he wasn’t aware of an illegal subtenant problem at Peter Cooper Village but he acknowledged that the keycards would present an obstacle to people living in the complex illegally. He insisted, however, that the system was not devised for that purpose. “It’s another level of safety for Peter Cooper Village, in addition to features like motion sensors above rooftop doors and blue security kiosks on the grounds that have direct communication to live security personnel,” Shea said.

Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is online at

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