Q. I live in a condo in Westchester. We have a super who has been here for 20 years and he doesn’t do a thing except empty garbage and maybe vacuum the hallway. When the board mmbers ask him to do something, he frequently refuses—yet he tells the unit owners to send emails to our management company telling them how good he is. He is very selective with which owners he helps in the building. How can we fire him?
A. “Initially, we need to know if the super’s employment is governed by an employment agreement or union contract,” says Andrew Wagner, shareholder attorney with the New York law office of Anderson Kill. “If so, the manner in which he can be disciplined or terminated would be governed by those agreements.
“Assuming neither of the above scenarios applies, then the super is an employee-at-will, and may be fired for any reason or no reason, at any time, provided that the termination is not for a discriminatory reason, or retaliatory in nature.
“Generally speaking, condominium boards are afforded protection by the Business Judgment Rule, which insulates boards from liability for decisions made in good faith. Given that there appear to be legitimate reasons for terminating the superintendent’s employment, the board can issue a termination letter and request that he turn over all keys and condominium property (i.e., tools, cell phone, etc.) to the management company. Additionally, if he resides in the building, he should be directed to move out of the unit by a specified date.
“Before doing so, however, it is a good idea to document the failures to perform his job duties, and to put him on notice of each example. Once a pattern emerges, he can be placed on probation, with a warning that further transgressions will result in his termination. And if he violates the terms of his probation, his termination will be difficult to challenge.
“Below are some specific guidelines that should be followed:
First, a comprehensive description of the super’s duties and responsibilities should be prepared and signed by him.
Second, complaints about his conduct and job performance should be immediately addressed, and he should be directed to resolve them in a timely manner.
Third, serious or repeated violations should be memorialized in writing and signed by him. The same is true when he is placed on probation.
Fourth, if he violates the terms of his probation, a termination letter should be issued.
“Although these procedures are not legally required, they are a prudent way to insulate the board from liability should the super later claim he was wrongfully terminated. And in the future, it is advisable to have an employment contract with the new super.
A building superintendent—also known as a super, property manager, or resident manager—oversees maintenance and repairs for a residential building that typically houses 10 or more units. As a landlord, it helps to have someone on-site for general maintenance and upkeep, and to tackle minor repairs. An on-site super can also be a selling point when marketing your property to tenants.
In smaller buildings, a building super handles maintenance and repairs. In a larger building with more robust staff, the super may take on more of a building manager role. Properties with a certain number of rental units are required to hire a super, and rules vary by location—in New York City, for instance, buildings with 10 units or more must have a janitor or super who lives on site or within a block, and is reachable 24 hours a day.
A live-in super may occupy the ground level of the building or a basement apartment rent-free or for a reduced rate. (He or she may also receive a salary, or wage, besides housing.) If the super doesn’t live in the building, he will likely live close by—in New York City, he must live within one block or 200 feet from the building.
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6 Responsibilities of a building super
Building supers oversee a handful of duties in the building, though responsibilities may vary by the size of the building.
- Handling garbage removal.In smaller buildings, the super takes garbage and recycling out for collection and returns bins. A super knows local garbage collection rules, including when trash is collected and bulk items should be placed for pick-up. In larger buildings, a super may manage a staff member who collects trash.
- Cleaning common areas. A building super in a smaller building cleans common areas, or in a larger building, ensures the maintenance staff does. This often involves sweeping, mopping, or vacuuming the halls, stairways, and walkways. Snow removal may be required in the winter months.
- Maintaining the property.Building supers are responsible for preventative maintenance, like scheduling regular inspections, and handling minor repairs, like a leaky faucet. In bigger buildings, there may be a handyman on staff and the super will manage his workload. Some supers handle major repairs, such as plumbing issues, while others manage larger repairs.
- Resolving tenant issues. A super in a smaller building often fields tenant complaints. In a bigger building, another staff member may take complaints, but the super will likely help out. Depending on the severity of the complaint, the super may resolve the issue himself (think: changing a lightbulb), delegate, or contact the landlord for input.
- Managing building turnover. A landlord may charge a super with preparing the apartment for turnover. This involves routine maintenance, like painting, cleaning, replacing tiles or grout, checking locks on windows and doors, as well as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If the super doesn’t perform those tasks, he may hire professionals.
- Communicating with the landlord. The super is often the first point of contact for tenants, and if an issue needs the landlord’s attention, the super will pass on the message. The super can also alert the landlord to building issues, such as an illegal pet or broken electrical plumbing.
A building super serves as the liaison between the landlord and building tenants. There’s no one-size-fits-all job description for supers, so bear in mind that your experience with supers may be different from someone else’s.
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