As nervous New York City building managers and tenants geared up at the eleventh hour to weather last April’s possible strike by doormen and other staff members, it was business as usual for one residential building in Manhattan.
“We weren’t worried about the strike at all,” boasts Michael Venditti, board president at The Lyla, a 17-unit, high-end condominium in Chelsea. That’s because when The Lyla’s part-time doorman leaves his post, whether for a lunch break or to go home at day’s end, Cyberdoorman is there.
No science-fiction character à la Robocop, Cyberdoorman is actually a round-the-clock, remotely manned network of video cameras, intercoms, and door release technology – a kind of polite and helpful Big Brother, there to protect your building’s entrance. In the aftermath of the averted strike, at a time when boards may be considering alternatives to the traditional doorman role, Cyberdoorman could be here to save the day.
Best Monitoring, a Bronx-based security systems company, offers the service. It monitors and allows remote access to the building via high-speed internet that monitors deliveries, pickups, and maintenance workers (e.g., Con Ed, FedEx, dry cleaners, United Parcel Service, cable) when tenants are not home or do not wish to be disturbed. There are different levels of service that run the gamut from package reception or video monitoring to full-blown “sky’s-the-limit” concierge service.
It works like this: when visitors, deliverymen, or maintenance workers press a button marked “doorman” on the intercom panel, Cyberdoorman – a real person located at a central station in the Bronx – answers the call and attempts to contact the tenant. Access is granted or denied, according to the tenant’s instructions. When receiving packages, a deliveryman’s identification is asked for before the front door is remotely opened and the lock on a package closet or mailroom is released. The deliveryman’s progress is remotely viewed through cameras posted at the entrance, lobby, and package room. Tenants can choose to be alerted to visitors and deliveries via e-mail or telephone call when they are not at home.
Eighty-eight Bleecker Street, a 106-unit cooperative in Greenwich Village, decided to employ Cyberdoorman full-time after a history of unwanted visitors getting into the building and some lackluster security guard performances. “The building decided to switch over for better security. Our guards before were literally useless. One would just sit with the paper there and never even looked people in the eye,” remembers Avi Jacobi, acting superintendent of the co-op.
“Before, we had random delivery people roaming the hallways,” notes Jay Cohen of The Argo Corporation, the property’s manager. “There was concern for safety in the building, so the board decided to increase the security. They brought in Cyberdoorman.” Adds Jacobi: “The residents like Cyberdoorman. Now, they feel safe.”
Venditti at The Lyla has several stories in which Cyberdoorman came to the rescue. For example, one night at 2 A.M., Venditti’s door began to buzz incessantly. He ran downstairs but was stopped at the building entrance by a voice over the loudspeaker. Like the disembodied computer voice of HAL in the 1968 sci-fi film 2001, Cyberdoorman warned Venditti: “Michael, don’t go near the door. There’s a drunken man trying to get in.” Cyberdoorman had already called the police and, in Spanish, was telling the man to leave the door before the police arrived. And he left.
“Lots of times, since we’re on a major street, there are people who hang out in front of the door. Cyberdoorman will tell them, ‘This is private property, please remove yourself from the front door.’ If something suspicious is seen, they will say something. If it’s really suspicious, they’ll call the police or call me. It’s a great service,” says Venditti.
Another time, when a vandal damaged a portion of the lobby, Venditti asked Barcus at Best Monitoring to send him the video recorded by the lobby’s cameras. That was how the board caught the culprit, a drunken resident. According to Seth Barcus, systems integrator and project manager at Best Monitoring, Cyberdoorman is ideal for smaller- and medium-sized buildings for which “[affording a] doorman is out of their realm. Sharing common charges for a 24-hour doorman at a quarter-million [dollars] a year is expensive.”
Depending on the size of the building, installation of the system can average from $10,000 to $30,000. Annual monitoring for smaller buildings begins at $5,000 and goes up accordingly, depending on the size of the property and services chosen. Up to 16 cameras can be viewed 24 hours a day and video can be stored and retrieved for up to 200 days.
Barcus doesn’t foresee any conflict with Local 32B/32J: “Buildings that can afford a doorman are still going to have a doorman. We can’t give [tenants] a newspaper. We can’t give that amenity of a physical human being.”
Nonetheless, Cyberdoorman’s appeal – as an attractive amenity for properties, including small and luxury residences – is growing. Currently, the system is employed in seven buildings in the city and the company is expecting to be in twenty more by the end of the year. For the future, Best Monitoring plans on expanding services to include calling cabs, reserving tables at restaurants, and even providing nanny cams for parents.
“One of the best things about it,” says Jacobi at 88 Bleecker, “[is that] people don’t know. They think someone is downstairs watching the camera and talking to you. It’s an advantage.”
“It definitely adds an extra level of security,” adds Barcus. And he’s quick to underscore Best Monitoring’s commitment to building safety. “Part of our whole theory is we want you to secure your whole building and we want to be part of that aspect of securing your building. But if [you decide to discontinue our services], which hasn’t happened yet, your building is more than secure. The intercom, the cameras, and all the equipment stay.”
Venditti’s verdict: “I don’t think we need a doorman at all. It’s expensive with worker’s comp and everything. If some of the residents in the building had not wanted a physical doorman, we would have gone cyber 100 percent.”