Have a Policy
"Sadly, most co-ops just don't deal with this policy," says attorney Dean Roberts, a partner at Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. "People don't think about it until something goes wrong, and when it does, it can get very bad." He recommends that boards discuss the issue and set up a policy on what the super can do. For some boards, this might be a complete ban on outside work in the building; others can draft a simple agreement saying the super is not acting as an employee but as an independent contractor with insurance.
Michael Spain, an insurance broker and principal at Spain Agency, says the issue is becoming so common that underwriters are starting to ask if supers are allowed to do private work in the building before insuring it.
"I don't see them saying they won't insure them if they do, but I see them asking, which means it's an issue they are looking at. It's definitely seen as a negative," says Spain.
Supers are also putting themselves at risk when doing private work, since they won't be entitled to workers' compensation if they are hurt.
No Outright Ban
Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management, reports that all of his buildings have detailed job descriptions for their supers, which forbid private work in units during building time. Still, none of them have an outright ban on private work in the building on off-time.
"I never want to take money out of anybody's pocket, but you have to make sure these guys are not doing work on company time. If they are going to be a contractor, they have to act like a contractor. They need proper documentation and insurance," says Lehr.
Although side jobs are sometimes banned or discouraged, some managing agents take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to minor jobs, such as walking someone's dog or watering plants. Paul Gottsegen, president of Halstead Management, points out that even these come with a liability. "Someone going to feed the fish can knock over a $20,000 vase. With contracting, anything can happen, and that's what we look out for as managers. I'd rather a shareholder hire contractors who are licensed and insured instead of using building staff."
Adapted from "The Side Job Conundrum" by Kathleen Lucadamo (Habitat, October 2014)
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