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Weird things you should not ask your super to do, and what you can ask for

In a rental, a super may make minor repairs, like fix a leaky faucet. It's usually a different story in a condo or co-op.

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All hail the super. That celebrated jack-of-all trades who is there when you need him (or her), to fix that leaky faucet, to tighten that rattling doorknob, or ensure that the heat is working in those cold winter months. 

But not all interactions between residents and supers are positive; alas, some people have too lofty, too rigorous, or too downright weird expectations for what they think a super should perform as part of their routine duties.

Below, real estate professionals recount instances when renters or owners stepped out of bounds when dealing with a super and give advice on how to best treat your super to maintain a rewarding relationship.

Keep it realistic

Condo and co-op boards need to keep their expectations down to earth. “I've seen condo or co-op boards who want the super to paint the entire building without added compensation, because he's on the payroll,” says Jay Cohen, director of operations at A. Michael Tyler Realty Corp.

“A large job will come in, the board will ask 'can't the super do it?' and I'll have to explain to them that they need a licensed contractor to perform whichever type of work; it's not for the superintendent. The superintendent can't hang off the edge of the building and re-point a spot because you don't want to hire someone with a scaffold. I'm all for going in-house for as much work as possible, but to hang off the outside of the building, or to put a ladder up 30 feet in the air to do some minor pointing is a little out there.

“And if you're dealing with a union, you're subjecting yourself to a possible arbitration hearing, and you could be jeopardizing the health and well-being of the employee,” he says.

Getting weird

Of course, not all inappropriate super requests are as calculated. Some are just... strange.

“I had a super receive an emergency call one evening from a resident complaining that there was NO electricity at their unit,” recalls Carmelo Milio, president and director of property management with Manhattan- and Yonkers-based Trion Real Estate Management.

“When the super arrived at the door, he immediately noticed that a lamp was on in the living room, and the air conditioner was running. So he knocks on the door, the tenant opens, and the super asks her if she is still experiencing some power outage. She replies 'all of the power is out.' So, figuring that there may be some appliances that are down, the super proceeds to the breaker panel. But all of the breakers are on, as is the television in the kitchen. And if that wasn't weird enough, the tenant's phone then rings —a cordless landline. So the super is now fully aware that all of the power is working effectively. Yet, before answering the phone, the tenant speculates that it might be the electric company.

The super at this point has no idea why the woman believes there’s an emergency situation, but he hears her say on the phone, 'hello, [electric company]? Is the power back on yet?' while every light is on, the TV is on, the AC is running, and she's talking on a plug-in phone. It was truly baffling.”

Claudine Gruen, vice president and director of operations with Garthchester Realty in Forest Hills, Queens, has encountered her fair share of oddball requests. “We had a resident complain that a wall in his apartment was 'wavy,'” she says. “If you looked at it when the light hit it a certain way, according to him, the wall was not straight, it was 'wavy.' And I guess he wanted the super to straighten it out? I'm not sure what his proposed solution was, but we didn't do anything.”

“Then I had a lady call to request the super clean up her child's vomit,” Gruen continues. “And another complain that her car tire was getting wet in the garage. A car she did not drive, by the way. Not the entire car, just the tire. The super told her that if she jacked up the car, it wouldn't get wet.”

As property manager for numerous high-end rental properties at the Essex House in NYC, Dolly Hertz, also a broker with Engel & Volkers NYC, gets some curiously pedestrian requests for the supers, like "please buy me some light bulbs," but also some some surprising finds. One example: Pulling a full pack of cigarettes out of the garbage disposal in a pregnant woman's apartment. 

“Mine is not to wonder why," she says.

Demands can run from the bizarre to the extreme, and it’s important to know what is acceptable. The following situations were on the edge, in more ways than one.

Bram Fierstein, president and co-founder of Gramatan Management in New Rochelle, once had a nun call him to say that she needed the super to remove a snake from under her bed. Steve Elbaz, founder and president of Esquire Management Corp. in Brooklyn, had a resident demand that the super provide him with a key to the freight elevator so that the resident could have ample space to travel up and down at his discretation. And Ryan Kinser, a senior property manager with DDG Partners in Manhattan, whose portfolio includes concierges that serve in the role of super, has had residents make requests to book villas and private jets.

How to get it right

Of course, it is important to be kind and considerate of your super, and not harangue him about your wavy walls, so that they treat you with respect and decency in return. But it is also key to know what is part of their job description, and what they can and can’t do for you.

“Know what they do and do not do inside of apartments,” recommends Elbaz. “In a rental, a super may make minor repairs in a unit, as the landlord may prefer not to involve outside vendors. A super might take care of a leaky faucet, a clogged toilet, a gasket on a refrigerator, etc.

“But in a condo or co-op building, there's very little reason for a super to go into a unit, other than maybe to adjust the heating system. But supers, like anyone else, appreciate some extra money, and might be willing to lend a hand granted that they're spoken to in a polite and courteous tone. Those who remember this will benefit much more from their super than those who are nasty and demanding.”

And Gea Elika, principal broker with ELIKA Real Estate in Manhattan, advises “don't forget to tip the super, or risk being blacklisted. Tip from the first day you move in, and then every holiday season. Whether you need filters replaced, or your drain needs to be snaked, you can avoid calling a plumber, as a super can be like a human Swiss Army Knife; they're very handy. But remember that they are human, and they respond to kindness. Being friendly goes a long way.”