Bill Morris in Building Operations on June 1, 2017
At bigger buildings – such as the 180-unit Penny Lane co-op in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan – a live-in super and a dedicated staff are key to keeping the building clean and the systems running smoothly. They’re also a big part of the cost of doing business. But for boards at many smaller buildings, such staffing costs can be prohibitive. How do those boards keep up with up-keep?
“After our long-time super retired, we had a succession of part-time supers,” says Jeff Byles, board president at a 24-unit Upper West Side co-op that faces Riverside Park and the Hudson River. “It seemed to make sense to have a part-timer handle our trash, recycling, and minor repairs.”
It made sense until it didn’t. “There was a lot of turnover, and that created problems,” says Byles, a writer and consultant who moved into the five-story building in 1998 and has served on the five-member board for 15 years, the last five as president. “Some of the part-time supers didn’t do a good job on minor repairs, like patching, painting, cleaning. They were not meeting expectations and they were racking up violations.”
The problem, according to Byles, was that the part-time supers tended to be over-stretched, maybe working a full-time job and handling several buildings after hours. Sometimes, there were personality clashes between the supers and the residents. Something had to give.
Shortly before the board decided to switch from a large management company to the boutique firm MD Squared Property Group, it turned to one of the burgeoning number of companies that supply buildings with part-time supers. Since the board had already contracted with Efficient Combustion to do routine maintenance and provide emergency response for its gas-fired boiler, the new super would be responsible only for daily cleaning and chores, and well as monthly, quarterly and yearly deep-cleaning and maintenance jobs. The board hired Spark Super, which handles 16 buildings. A small company proved to be a good fit for this small co-op.
“We’re geared toward co-ops and condos,” says James Park, managing director of Spark Super, which was founded in 2012. “Every building has a budget and buildings are not robotic, so you have to tailor the service to them.”
Four times a week, the same super – technically called a porter – visits the co-op to remove garbage and recyclables, vacuum hallways, dust, mop floors, clean the sidewalk. Once a month he cleans woodwork and bannisters and recycling bins. Every three months, the brass rails in front of the building are polished, and once a year the carpets are steam-cleaned, drains are cleared, and both front doors are varnished. Spark Super provides the workers for all jobs.
“Taking care of cleaning on a routine basis is what we needed to do to protect our investment,” says Byles. “We needed to go to this contract model. It’s a huge headache-reducer from the board’s point of view. Since we’re not a big building with a staff and a doorman, we had to find this constellation of services to make our building run well. It’s taken a while, but we’re getting there.”
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