New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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BUILDING SUPERINTENDENTS: A PRIMER

Building Superintendents: A Primer

Superintendent Tom Campbell

If anyone has the keys to the castle, both literally and figuratively, it's your super. He may be the only one who knows the location of the gas turn-off valve and who will get out of bed at four a.m. if the boiler shuts down. Here's how to hire a super, and take good care of him so that he can take care of you.

Joseph Shkreli (pronounced "shkoh-relly") is typical of the best of that breed. The 30-year-old from Michigan has been the superintendent for five years at a 37-unit co-op in Great Neck, N.Y. He started as a summer relief porter in a New York City building and gradually moved up to handyman. "Whenever the super would do anything, he would take me with him, show me what to do." He learned the basics from assisting his mentor, but, as a superintendent, he realized he needed to know more, and so took continuing-education courses.

It's the way many supers acquire and hone their skills: by learning on the job and then taking classes. Shkreli has studied plumbing, refrigeration and air conditioning, and recently completed a class on heating. "It's a fabulous course," he says with enthusiasm. "Anyone in the [staff] end of the building should have a working knowledge of how the building is operated."

What should a co-op or condo board expect from its super? That depends on the size and type of building — a 40-unit apartment house has different needs than a 350-unit high-rise — but there are some basics.

"You've got to let people know what is expected of them and what is expected of other staff," notes boiler mechanic and former two-decade super Glen Stoltz of the Superintendents Technical Association (STA). He strongly recommends having a written job description, adding that it's also useful to give such a list to prospective supers "so that they know before they're hired what's going to be expected of them." Managing agents will often be able to provide a basic list of duties that can be tailored to fit particular buildings. As a starting point, Stoltz suggests asking your current superintendent to write down what he does.

Many condo and co-op boards are concerned that a written list of duties will allow a super to decline to do work that's not listed. But Peter Finn, an attorney with the Realty Advisory Board (RAB), points out that the standard union contract requires that employees cooperate with management to facilitate the efficient operation of the building. That generally covers any gaps that may be found in the written list. As long as a superintendent is not being directed to do something illegal or dangerous, he has to comply.

How to Hire

The property manager generally handles hiring, but boards in self-managed buildings don't have that luxury, and those with managers may want to get involved anyway.

To find good candidates, talk to maintenance and repair people who come into your building; they often know when a super elsewhere is looking to move. Look at resumes posted on the STA website, and check out the "position wanted" want ads in the Sunday  New York Times and other newspapers. You can also contact the Manhattan Resident Managers Club, where, says president Mike MacGowan, himself the manager of a 240-unit building with a staff of 15, "We have supers who are members who are out of work sometimes, or sometimes we have some guys who just want to make a change – sometimes boards change and they don't get along, or maybe the management company changes."

As for the interview, as consultant Peter Grech, past president of the STA, has written, "One of the biggest mistakes both board and managing agents make is not knowing what they want in a person who will fill the position. Another mistake is not being forthright at the interview and hiding certain facts when asked ... [and yet another] is hiring someone they are not quite sure of but have the 'let's see' approach. If you don’t see a candidate that meets your requirements and needs, then don’t hire. Settling is the worse thing you can do."

Once you have hired the candidate, Grech continues, "Do not let him/her move in right away, even if this means paying extra to supplement his/her rent. ... Only after two or three months, when you are comfortable, should you allow the new superintendent / resident manager to move in. If you can hold off until the probation period is over with, then even better."

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