Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hiring a Super for the Long Haul

The New York Times
January 27, 2008
Your Home

THINK that finding a spouse is tough? Try hiring a building superintendent.

“You must use extreme caution,” said Herb Rose, a co-op and condominium consultant in Manhattan, “because firing a superintendent could be like going through a divorce, only worse.”

The first issue, Mr. Rose said, is whether the building is a union or nonunion building.

The employees of most large multifamily rental buildings in New York, as well as most large co-ops and condominiums, are members of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ.

Kate Ferranti, a spokeswoman, says that the union helps to negotiate starting salaries at individual buildings, but that subsequent raises are based on the union contract.

Newly hired superintendents must serve a six-month probationary period during which the building can fire them, but after that, the union contract ensures that they are not fired arbitrarily.

And that is why making the right choice is so important.

Mr. Berg said that a super must possess a combination of skills, including, of course, the mechanical skills necessary to deal with day-to-day issues involving the building’s heating plant, electrical system, plumbing and general maintenance.

Supers also have to have “people skills.” In residential buildings, that will mean dealing with the people who own or rent the apartments, and in a co-op or condo, supers will be reporting to a board of directors and often to a management company as well. In larger buildings, the super will also be directing a number of other maintenance people.

Mr. Rose, the consultant, said the first thing an owner or board should do when hiring a super is to review references thoroughly. As he put it, “You want to find out why the guy left his last job, and you also want to make sure he seems to be the kind of person who will stay with you for a good length of time.”

It is also wise to run a credit check and a criminal background check on all prospects.

Another thing to consider, Mr. Rose said, is that you will not just be hiring an employee, you will be gaining a neighbor as well. “You are going to be living with this family,” he said, “so you want to make sure all the personalities are compatible.”

Neil Garfinkel, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, said that while most supers are expected to do basic maintenance or supervise those who do, a building hiring a super may need specific skills. “If you have a building whose boiler is always breaking down,” he said, “you want someone who really knows boilers.”

Michael Berenson, president of Akam Associates, a Manhattan management company, said that supers being hired today should also have basic computer skills and the ability to compose regular detailed reports on the status of the building.

Mr. Berenson says that supers’ pay varies widely, depending on the size the building and experience and skills.

“I’ve seen salaries range from $40,000 to $100,000” in New York City, he said, adding that a super will also usually get an apartment and utilities free — benefits that can be worth several thousand dollars a month.

Next week: Firing a super.

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