Working With Your Super Clear-Cut Systems Can Improve Relations

At eight o'clock on a weekday morning, you won't find Peter Grech hustling to catch a train or waiting in line for the bus. Nor will you find him snug in his bed, dreaming the morning away. Grech is a resident manager for the Alfred, a 224-unit condominium on West 61st Street. Mornings, from eight to nine am, once he's finished his building rounds, you can find Grech in the lobby, shaking hands and taking down problems tenants are experiencing.

I'm there just so people can see me while they're leaving for work. They tell me about their problems and I listen to them, he says. While Grech often hears complaints, compliments are few. Even when he goes out of his way, helping tenants whose problems don't technically fall under the building's responsibility, a word of thanks may never come.

Which is a shame, according to industry experts who cite the power of a positive word or two, which can do wonders for improving the relationship between the building's superintendent and its residents. Most resident managers feel they frequently bear the brunt of negative attitudes or a general feeling of ungratefulness. When it comes to dealing with board members, this feeling can build up to resentment and stifle the board's ability to communicate effectively with the building's resident manager (RM), the title many supers are beginning to prefer.



A Clear Chain of Command

In addition to feeling under-appreciated, resident managers have expressed confusion over who's in charge, especially when board members and managing agents give conflicting instructions. This can slow down or even halt any hope of creating a working dialogue between the board and the super.

Some supers refuse to work for co-ops because of conflicting orders, explains Dick Koral, director of the Apartment House Institute at New York City's Technical College. They're told one thing by board members, then another by the managing agent. Often the confusion is not only the fault of board/management clashes; it can also be the result of different board members handing out conflicting instructions. At one of his previous jobs, says Grech, I ran into plenty of problems with one board member telling to me to keep the lobby window curtains drawn and another saying I should open them. This would happen a lot and it got to the point where I wasn't sure what to do.

Grech is not alone. According to managers and resident supers, confusion over whom to listen to is the key reason why some building problems are never resolved. The answer is to have a clear chain of command through which information flows. Set up correctly, the chain reduces the chances of resident managers having to stop and wonder whose instructions they should be following.The most common chain is set up in this way: The board relays information to the board president, including any maintenance problems or difficulties the building is facing that would concern the resident manager. The president then speaks to the managing agent, and the agent instructs the resident manager. It might also be a good idea to have someone on the board be designated liaison between the resident manager and managing agent, just so the board can be assured that everything is moving in a positive direction.

This process, once establised, should be followed and adhered to, not subverted in ffb any way. Koral cautions, The super takes orders from the managing agent, not the board of directors. When the board intervenes with the resident manager directly, it can cause a lot of problems. The only time this channel should be breached is if the building faces an emergency. That's it.



Enhanced Communications

Another way, without interfering with the chain, to raise the level of communication between the board and resident manager is to invite the super to board meetings. Harry Smith, a managM-ing agent with Kreisel Management says, The super should be in attendance to discuss building matters at the monthly meeting. For 15 or 20 minutes, whatever is appropriate, he should be there to discuss any physical plant problems or anything he feels should be brought up. Ursula Dobson, a managing agent with Bellmarc-Regal Management, also encourages the board members she works with to keep the super heavily involved. She also asks that boards schedule meetings which specifically address any maintenance issues affecting the building which need to be discussed with the resident manager. On those rare occasions when a problem develops between the board and super, she will invite both parties to a sit-down and have them discuss it openly. You want the building to be running as smoothly as possible. If there's a conflict in communication, a lot of M-he said, she said' going around, then you have to cut out all the behind-the-back stuff. Dobson calls these mediation gatherings M-Power Meetings'. Once you confront the problem, often, what you find is that it all stems from some minor misunderstanding or lack of communication, she says. Usually, it can all be cleared up at these meetings when the parties are face to face.



Happy Employees, Happy Building

Charles Rappaport, president of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives, advises, It's important that you treat [the super] the way you would want to be treated. If he goes out of his way to help you, make sure you let him know you appreciate it. Rappaport goes on to say that it's the little things that help cement the relationship between the board and resident manager: Knowing birthdays, particular likes or dislikes, etc. Seeing the person not just as staff, butbecause they're living in the same buildingas another resident, goes a long way in improving the board/resident manager relationship.

Koral agrees: The tenant/shareholders and board members should recognize the resident super, if he or she has been doing an exceptional job. Either around Christmas or even run a party for the guy every few years or so, make some kind of action that shows their efforts are appreciated. This does a lot for morale.

Another path to ensure positive communication is simply to get their titles right. It might seem like nit-picking to someone outside the industry but to those directly involved, it isn't. A resident manager is the preferred term for superintendents who are in charge of maintenance and custodial staffs at high-rise apartments and have an apartment on the premises. According to Michael Androvic, president of the Slovak Resident Managers Club, an organization that focuses on issues affecting resident managers of Czech or Slovak background, under New York City law, in order to be a resident manager, one must hold an apartment at the building site. Superintendents can work in the building without holding an apartment on-site but resident managers cannot. And when you talk to Androvic or Grech, they are quick to point out that they are resident managers, not superintendents.



Choosing Right for Your Building

The only true way to start the board/RM relationship off right is to make certain to hire the right person for the job. Koral suggests that you quiz the prospective candidate carefully. They should be able to explain a common maintenance procedure in detail, such as the operation of a building's heating system and how it works. They should also be abl fe8 e to present a rough schedule of maintenance for all building equipment, including roofs and walls. You should also ask how they handle disciplinary problems and if they have their own system of rewards and encouragement for staff who do well, he says.

Equally as important as technical qualifications is personality, and how well a candidate will fit in with the rest of the building. It's important to include the board in the interview process, says Harry Smith of Kreisel. Where I may think this guy would be fine, they might feel he's too heavy-handed or his experience doesn't match up. In a building, you can have a lot of political problems and you want to curb that. You need to look for someone with a proper personality fit.

As always, it's a good idea to know your prospective super's background and work history. If they were working at another building, why did they leave? How would they handle specific problems, etc. As a board member, you should feel obligated to know who's being hired and not just accept management's word that they're a good candidate. Experts say problems would be solved a lot quicker this way.

It's also helpful for board members to know that a recent building staff employee can be relieved of their position 30 to 60 days after being hired for no explanation. Androvic agrees with this policy because it preserves the profession's reputation. After the trial period, reasons for immediate dismissal include being found stealing or drinking on the job. Any other reasons, such as poor work performance or constantly taking sick days, can result in the resident manager losing his position but retaining the right to be able to have a hearing with the local union to defend himself and retain his job. The trial period, 30 to 60 days, is the best time to seed out difficulties and find out if the manager you've chosen is the right one for your building.

Mr. Serken is Associate Editor of The New York Cooperator.

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2 Comments

  • I treat my Super with respect and if I need his help I always tip him even if he says no. During the holidays I always tip him and dive a gift to his close family. Until 2 years ago he was great in keeping clean the building. Since then he doesn't collect the garbeage until 12:30 pm does not get the garbage out the building too often so our building smell bad and his answe is to spray some foam wich does nothing to remove the odor, and he used to do vacum 2 a wick now he uses a han vacum ( not electric pover) to vacum the carpets and every 3 month we have to get somebody to clean the mess he is creating. Is this OK?
  • @Shoshana: It sounds like the RM was given a new order by the board to reduce certain jobs, in this case janitorial work. Either that or he's overwhelmed and needs help. No, it's not Ok and the board should be informed of the issue.