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Did you hear about the 15-unit Brooklyn condo, where board president Michele Israel initiated a holiday collection for the building’s part-time porter? “Prior to that, he’d just been getting a candy basket, so he was really surprised and grateful,” she says. Israel made the contributions voluntary but set the suggested amount at $50. Almost every shareholder contributed that or more. “I know a lot of boards don’t feel comfortable asking for a certain amount, but in our case, it really worked out nicely since it took away the uncertainty,” she says.
Times are tough and many building staff are feeling squeezed, especially part-timers and non-union workers. “A lot of guys are living check to check, and everyone is really depending on both the [holiday] tips and bonus as a part of their income. It should really be considered part of the cost of living in the building. Not tipping would be like going out to dinner and not tipping. Sure, you could do it, but you’d be breaking the unwritten social contract,” says Judd Cady, the resident manager of an 89-unit, full-service co-op in Manhattan.
Ho, ho, h…oh no. It’s that time of year again. You know, time to tip the super, doormen, porters, and anyone else who works for your building. Is your co-op or condo doing right by its staff? Tipping enough? Too much? It’s hard to tell what’s “normal.”
“Anyone will tell you that you have to tip, but no one likes to tell you the specifics,” says Martin Kera, president of Bren Management. What do board members, managing agents, and staff members from co-ops and condos, large and small, call “the standard”? While it might be said that the only rule is that there are no rules, certain general guidelines do emerge.
The people who work for your building are expecting everyone to tip them…twice. In most buildings, supers, porters, doormen, and other staff members receive two different sources of extra income at the holidays: a year-end bonus from the co-op or condo – which is usually voted on by the board and comes out of the building’s labor budget – and cash tips from individual residents – which should be in addition to that.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have to tip because the board already gave for me,’ ” says Jeff Weber, a principal at Weber-Farhat Realty Management. “Sorry, that’s just not the way it is. For most people, it’s just human nature to want to give something extra. If that doesn’t make them do it, practically speaking, they should think, ‘I do not want to be the only one here that didn’t tip the super when it comes time to ask him for a favor.” (On the other hand, some smaller properties, like the Brooklyn condo with one staff member, often pay lump sums in lieu of individual tips.)
Different Staff, Different Tips
Board members and managing agents say that bonuses usually range from one week’s to one month’s salary. Individual tips vary, but $50 to $100 for supers and handymen is common, with doormen and porters commonly getting a bit less. Baskets of holiday treats and other gifts are nice, but only if they’re in addition to cash.
“We give our super a fruit basket because we really like him and want to do something personal and Christmassy to say, ‘thanks,’ but that’s on top of the bonus, not instead of,” says Don Warshaw, president of a 31-unit co-op in Manhattan. It’s also considered okay to send a gift basket as thanks to the entire office of the management company, though most buildings give their agents monetary tips, too.
Don’t Forget the Overnight Guy
There’s a Buddhist saying that housework is invisible because you only see it when it’s not done. The same can be said for most of what supers, porters, and doormen do, so most buildings issue some sort of reminder to the residents and shareholders at large, usually by either posting a flier with a list of the building’s employees in the common area or slipping one under every door. (E-mails are sometimes used, too.) This is especially common in large, full-service buildings where many residents rarely see some of the staff at work. “Most people remember their favorite doorman because they see him every day, but what about the guy who signs for your packages when you’re at work? And the night doorman – you never see him, but he’s up all night, every night keeping an eye on things. The list is a good way to make sure they’re included,” says Cady.
Reminders should go out in early December to give everyone in the building time to budget, and bonuses should be given as early as possible in the month. “The whole idea was originally to give people enough money to buy Christmas presents, so you want to make sure you get them the money before the holidays,” says Tracy Toscano, board president of a 24-unit condo in Brooklyn. Toscano says her building holds its annual meeting in November, which makes it a perfect opportunity to put the word out. “I always make an announcement there, and I think the timing really helps,” she says.
Be tactful, not tacky. Gently nudging shareholders to tip is good. Pressuring them is not. Take the case of a large, full-service Manhattan condo. Each December, the management installs a five-foot-tall, mailbox-like structure decorated with wreaths and holly alongside an “elaborate, arm-twisting” poster with headshots and bios of all 30 employees – right next to the concierge desk. “It’s really inappropriate,” says one peeved shareholder. “Everyone has to walk by it all day and feel pressured to drop an envelope in with everyone watching.”