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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




When Your Building Can't Afford a Full-Time Super, Consider a Part-Timer

Tom Soter in Building Operations on June 6, 2013

New York City, Morningside Heights, Bronxville

June 6, 2013

I remembered what it was like before we had our current super, whom we hired maybe a decade ago. My building is small — 22 units — and can't afford a full-time, live-in super. Our original superintendent was a nice man who handled a number of small properties for Columbia University, the biggest local landlord in our area, Morningside Heights. He knew something about building systems, but his main concern was keeping the building clean. He always seemed to be mopping, sweeping, and polishing. The glass entrance doors were so clear you wouldn't know there was glass in them.

But we had other problems that needed more than a cleaning rag. Shareholders called with plumbing issues or with electrical problems, and we found our super lacking the skills to deal with them. Other issues, big and small, came up and we found that our man, though he was very nice, wasn't quite up to the job. We replaced him with a part-timer who was a live-in superintendent at a nearby luxury cooperative. 

So, now, the board was unhappy — again. Were they justified? What exactly should co-op & condo boards expect from a part-time super? I volunteered to look into it.


My first stop was the Local 32BJ union contract with supers. The contract has a lot on responsibilities, termination requirements, and salary — but all for full-time supers, not part-timers.

I came across a 27-unit Bronxville co-op that, once upon a time, had employed a full-time, live-in super. But, on the advice of management, the board had let him go. "We couldn't afford to keep him on," one co-op board member said to me, somewhat wistfully. "We sold his apartment, and now we couldn't offer that to another full-time super even if we wanted to."

How do they get by? I asked.

"We have a cleaning service that comes by two or three times a week," she said. "They clean the hallways and common areas, and do some additional jobs, like take out the garbage." For that work, they're paid a flat monthly fee of $1,500. The co-op also has a small management firm that will often pinch-hit when the co-op requires a person to deal with vendors or contractors who need assistance. Other times, the board itself will get volunteers from its ranks to meet with service suppliers.

"We're constantly dealing with the issue of who's going to be here when a vendor comes," she explained. "Can the manager handle it or do we have to get someone from the building? And without a super, there's no one here to receive packages when people are not home. There's nobody on-site to supervise jobs."

She sighed. "There are so many things that a live-in super would do. We feel there's a lot of things we pay — like plumbing and electrical repairs — that a live-in super could just handle. It's still a constant juggling act for us. I don't think we've hit the sweet spot yet. We've made a lot of progress, however. But I don't think we can afford a full-time super, because with only 27 units, the per cost/per unit salary breakdown would be very high."

To learn how to find and hire a part-time super, and what to expect of him or her, read Part 2 or pick up the June issue of Habitat.


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