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Super School

Peter Lehr sent some of the superintendents he employs back to school. And many New York cooperatives and condominiums may now have to follow his lead.

Lehr, director of management at Kaled, recalls that, while leafing through a course offering guide published by the supers’ union, Local 32BJ, he noticed a seminar on human relations. “I said to myself, ‘My guys are very good with tools and they’re all very good with getting apartments ready, and handling all those things, but their public relations skills are terrible.’ And even the way that they talk to their staff – you want to maximize performance,” he explains. “You have to know how to speak to them. You just can’t kick them in the butt and say, ‘I told you to do that.’”

Feeling he would get better attendance if he could offer the men a mandatory class at a Kaled site, Lehr called the union and asked if it would consider offering a private tutorial for Kaled’s supers. The union agreed. Then, during the session, the instructor, Margie Russell, revealed a piece of news that made Lehr sit up and take notice: in the next few months, most supers will have to go back to school. Or else the buildings they work in could be facing fines, ranging from $25 to $100 per violation.

New York’s Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development (HPD) will soon be strictly enforcing a 1968 requirement that all New York City live-in superintendents in residential buildings of over nine units be certified. According to Russell, executive director of the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM), which has been working with HPD on this issue, some 100,000 area buildings may not be in compliance. Russell says that the city government was alarmed by increases in lead poisoning and carbon monoxide problems in New York City housing stock, leading HPD to re-train some 400 code enforcement personnel in lead and carbon monoxide laws, as well as in recognizing superintendent competency.

“I don’t know that there was a turning point incident,” Russell notes. “It was, I think, two things coming together at the same time: the lead safety work practices and HPD’s effort to clean up violations in many buildings. They came to the conclusion that the most violations were in buildings [in which the superintendents had] very little training in those areas.”

An HPD spokesperson, while not disputing Russell’s comments, says that HPD has “always enforced” the law and that rather than cracking down, HPD would prefer to say that it is trying to “make things easier for landlords and managing agents. One thing we’re working on now is this: in the code it says that a landlord has to certify a [superintendent’s] competency if they don’t take the course. So, landlords would typically have to write us a letter saying that the [super] is competent. To make it easier, we’ve created a certificate of competency form that could be filled out by the landlord and just submitted instead of a letter.”

The spokesperson adds that HPD is trying to make superintendents more aware of the need – and the opportunity – for additional education. “We are in the process of creating a brochure on frequently asked questions about that section of the law, about the section that pertains to the janitorial services.”

What all this means, Russell observes, is that supers need to crack open the textbooks. HPD is requiring that virtually all superintendents take three-hour seminars in carbon monoxide compliance, fire safety, pest management, Local Law 1 (hazard identification), real property ethics, and lead safety in the workplace.

Supers must also attend courses dealing with electrical, plumbing, and heating systems, among others. For those people, however, HPD will reportedly let an experienced super get credits through his or her work history. “We’ve worked with HPD for over a year to determine the kinds of transferable skills a super could take [as credits for a course],” says Russell. “For approximately 80 percent of this course work, you can get what we’ll refer to loosely as ‘a grandfathering clause.’ But there is still about 20 hours of seminar time that addresses directly the most current laws against lead, carbon monoxide, and so on.”

HPD, NYARM, and Local 32BJ will be offering classes that satisfy certification requirements. The union sessions, held at 101 Sixth Avenue, are free, reports Linda Nelson, director of the Thomas Shortman Training Fund, a labor-management partnership organization that is funded with contributions from employers. “In the last year, HPD has taken a line that they’re going to enforce this rule, which has been on the books for a long time but which has not really been enforced in any meaningful way,” Nelson notes. “When we heard that was happening, we approached them to offer seminars to our members.” (If there is enough interest and attendance – more than 12 people – the union will bring the classes to a designated location, as it did with Kaled.)

“Being certified means they know how to identify problems,” Russell explains. “In the past, [superintendents] have had very little training in certain areas, like lead paint or carbon monoxide poisoning. That will now change.”

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