A Thousand New York Stories Managing in the City That Never Sleeps

People love to tell stories about their jobs and the people who work in building management have plenty of good ones to share. That's probably because the industry revolves around people and something very important to them, their homes.

Building managers and maintenance staff are bound to come in contact with diverse groups of people leading to many a humorous or even inspiring tale that lends insight into the day-to-day management of a condo or a co-op. Anyone can handle a typical work day but dealing with unique situations on the front lines are where building employees really earn their paychecks.

Sleeping On the Job

More often than not, the reason a new management company is brought in to run a property is because the property isn't being run well. One manager, who asked not to be named, remembers taking over a property in New York City and having to fire the super and two doormen within six months, but it's the night doorman's story that stands out.

"The night doorman, he was constantly falling asleep at the door," the manager recalls. "The final straw came when he fell asleep one night, was leaning on the podium and he and the podium went through the front window of the building."

You can't say the doorman wasn't given a few chances. He had fallen asleep a few times before and was written up, suspended and spoken to, continues the manager. Falling through the window (which was captured on security videotape) was the final blow. "It was the midnight shift and he had a problem staying awake."

The doorman wasn't hurt, so it's OK to laugh about it now, he remembers. But there is a serious element to the story. Since 9/11, security is on everyone's mind and a sleeping doorman isn?t exactly comforting for tenants. "The good thing is, he didn't get hurt," the manager says. "The bad news is it's a security issue," and something unfortunately had to be done. The building now has a doorman who stays wide awake late into the evening, much to the relief of the residents.

How'd That Get Down There?

Put people from different backgrounds and different personalities together in a building, and you're bound to get a few winners. And most building employees will tell you that the overwhelming majority of co-op and condo residents in their buildings are decent people and good tenants. But it's the difficult and strange ones that stand out, say New York's resident managers.

"I kept getting these calls throughout the day and night from a tenant complaining that their toilet kept overflowing," according to Mike Rooney, who owns a building in Queens and handles maintenance for his tenants. "Each time they got increasingly irritated because no matter how many times I fixed it, it kept overflowing," continues Rooney.

"I had had enough of it and called in a plumber. He took the whole toilet apart and finally found the problem. The tenant's kids were flushing their G.I. Joe dolls down the john."

Thankfully, the tenants felt responsible and wanted to make amends. "The tenants looked at the G.I. Joes, then looked at me and said, "˜How much do we owe you for the plumber?'," says Rooney, smiling.

Rooney also told of an elderly woman who kept complaining about the stove in her apartment. "This woman in her 80's kept telling me her stove wasn't good enough," he reports. So one day, "I got tired of hearing her, so I bought her a state-of-the-art stove. A month or so later, I asked her how the stove was, and she told me, "˜Oh, I don't cook anymore'," he laughed.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Alex Butkevich of PRC Management Corp. has seen plenty of strange things over his years in the business. One story he recalled recently has an element of irony worthy of O. Henry, though the great writer probably wouldn't have thought up something quite like this. "We ran a large residential building in New York City with two penthouse apartments," Butkevich says. "One of the residents from a penthouse comes down first thing in the morning with steam coming out of his ears, yelling and screaming about the rat that he encountered in his apartment. He chased the furry beast throughout the apartment, finally cornering it in the kitchen and bashing its little head in."

So I made all the politically-correct promises to remedy the problem, Butkevich says. "God, I'm so sorry," Butkevich remembers saying. "We'll bait everything and we'll have everything cleaned out. We sent up the porters to clean up the mess. Everything was fine until about 3:30 that same day when the other penthouse resident comes down and says, "˜Can you talk to the staff, my kid lost his hamster last night'," the man says.

Butkevich had to think fast and discretion turned out to be the better part of valor. We handled it "very quietly," he says. "We decided not to let the parties know, it wouldn't have served a purpose," Butkevich adds. Thus, the tenant who believed that he had found a rat in his kitchen was never told the rodent was his neighbor's pet hamster. And the other tenant was never told that his neighbor had accidentally murdered the pet. "That's the kind of judgment call we property managers have to make all the time," Butkevich says.

Hey, Mr. Spaceman?

Some residents are just, let's say, a tad eccentric. One of Butkevich's was especially so. "Every building has its own resident nut job and every new hire, of course, gets an opportunity to work in [that] apartment to make some repairs," he says. "So this new fellow comes on board and he's sent up to this woman's apartment to make some faucet repairs. Now without a doubt, whenever someone was sent to her apartment, this woman would always call back and claim the repairman was incompetent and didn't do the right job. Anyway, this new repairman goes upstairs, does the job and comes down. There's no phone call. Finally the phone rings and I hear the super talking, "˜You mean he did a good job? Well, OK, thank you'."

The super hangs up the phone, Butkevich says, and quizzes the repairman about the job. The repairman relayed that he fixed the faucet and Butkevich asked what the woman said. "Did she say anything to you?" The repairman replies, "˜Well, she told me about little green people who come in under her door and steal her cookies and pickles.' "So, what did you do?" Butkevich shot back. "I stepped on them," assuring her that I had eliminated the "little green people," responded the repairman confidently.

Butkevich was pleased that the repairman did his job but couldn't help but wonder about his employee's methods. "He took care of the problem and she loved him, but what kind of new hire did we get?" he mused. All in a day's work, I guess.

Anthony Stoeckert is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

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