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Minimizing Liability When Your Building Staff Does Fix-It Jobs for Residents

New York City

Oct. 16, 2014

"It is fraught with problems both technically and legally," says Paul Gottsegen, president of Halstead Management. "The employee could get hurt at any time, whether or not he's 'on the job,' and even though it's a 'private' job on private time, he's still covered by the building-provided workers' compensation, so the whole building becomes responsible for this one private job."

Yet many buildings do allow staff to do minor fix-it jobs for residents. First, keep the super involved, since otherwise it can create ill will with the super and staff. One good initial course, say industry experts, may be to ask the super to look at a problem and make a recommendation on who can handle it from the outside and how.

If the super does do the work, however, he must be insured, qualified to do the job and approved by the board as any contractor would be, says Michael Spain, an insurance broker and principal at Spain Agency.

Set a Fee Structure

Another choice is to create a system that allows the super to do minor repairs for set fees, such as $30 for fixing a leaking faucet. Sometimes called a "chargeback system," this is the method used at one Queens building managed by Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management. The super gets paid extra and is still covered by the building's insurance. Or a shareholder can pay the co-op for the repairs, which would then pay the super, ensuring he's covered.

Zoltan Papp, a super at a 100-unit co-op on Fifth Avenue and a member of the New York City Superintendent Technical Association, says he farms out odd jobs to his porters and forbids them from doing any side jobs that involve plumbing or electricity.

"I'm talking about little things, handy[man] work that is covered by tips," says Papp, rattling off tasks like tossing out a Christmas tree, spackling a wall or touching up paint. "The tenant is happy because [he or she] saved money, the guy is happy because he made extra money and I'm covered because I know about it. It makes for a close relationship with tenants and the guys."

Still, he refuses the work himself, calling it unethical because he lives in the building and is well paid, and he warns the staff to stay away from major jobs. "I tell them, 'It could cause a fire or flood. Don't do it because you could lose your job,'" he says. If he is ever in doubt, his go-to person is the managing agent. "I don't call the shots. I talk to the agents and we make a decision on what we can do."


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Adapted from "The Side Job Conundrum" by Kathleen Lucadamo (Habitat, October 2014)

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