Rodney Dangerfield made a
career out of getting no respect, but in the world of condominiums and
co-ops, building superintendents may be able to empathize with the comedian.
While managing agents and board members seem to get all the accolades when
something goes right, supers are usually the ones who maintain the physical
structure of the building. They oversee all kinds of repairs and
construction projects, as well as helping out individual shareholders with a
vast array of minor (and not-so-minor) problems.
But that's not all they do.
Their job requirements may also include supervising a support staff of
porters, doormen and handymen. As the duties of supers have expanded beyond
just fixing leaky pipes and hauling trash to the curb, the issue of
licensing and/or certification for supers has become a big part of a
discussion among building managers, boards and the supers themselves.
"It's a hot topic," says
Margie Russell, executive director of the New York Association of Realty
Managers (NYARM). "A lot is happening right now regarding the certification
According to the experts, a
super doesn't necessarily need to get all the licenses and certifications
that are available, depending on the type of mechanical equipment in the
building, the number of residential units and what the certificate of
occupancy (C of O), dictates. However, amassing more credentials could help
in career advancement, and aid them in their everyday work.
The Importance of
When it comes to the amount
of education one needs to be a super in New York City, anything beyond the
minimum requirements required by law is up to the person doing the hiring.
Each superintendent position requires a different level of experience
depending on the size and scope of the job. That doesn't mean that people
won't look at an applicant's experience and education though.
"Larger buildings with more
sophisticated systems may require some formal education as well as computer
knowledge and special certifications from the FDNY, EPA, or HPD," says Julie
Karant, communications manager for SEIU Local 32BJ, the service worker's
union that represents building supers, doormen, porters, maintenance
workers, window cleaners and security guards, among other professionals.
"The management company typically determines what exactly they are looking
for in each of these respects."
According to Karant, there
is no set criteria that applies citywide when setting the bar on what type
of qualifications a super needs.
"However, for certain
requirements, like fire safety director, standpipe and sprinkler and cooling
towers, the FDNY and the EPA administer and monitor testing and
certification," she says.
"In addition to the fire
requirements, there is low pressure boiler certification," says Peter Grech,
former president, and now educational coordinator of the New York
Superintendents Technical Association (NYSTA). "The DEP sets requirements
for residual oil burners and HPD sets requirements for lead law certificates
That said, there are plenty
of examples of people holding the position who are not certified in any way
other than the few licenses that are required by law.
Grech has seen this through
the years. "I have seen porters promoted to superintendents as well as
handymen," he says. "The most important part of hiring someone for a
superintendent are people skills. Secondary are the trade skills in
carpentry, electrical and HVAC. But with the changing times, most building
issues are people-related, from the staff to the residents. Having trade
skills when most of the issues are people-related will not help."
It's important that before
hiring a superintendent, the board clarifies what the needs of the building
are—managerial and administrative, trade or a combination of both. They need
to hire someone who can successfully address their most pressing needs.
"Higher-end buildings tend
to prefer an experienced superintendent/resident manager with a similar
building history, usually with eight to 10 years of experience," says
Michael MacGowan, president of the Manhattan Resident Manager's Club. "High
emphasis is put on whether his conduct is a good fit for the building and
whether he has the intelligence and skill to satisfy the building's needs.
He or she should also have a good building operation maintenance track
Other buildings will more
likely hire more mechanically advanced superintendents with hands-on
experience. Overall, it seems one would have a very hard time finding a
superintendent position in Manhattan without Manhattan experience.
Why Go Further?
For those supers who want
to continue with their education, there are various Local 32BJ
union-sponsored programs. Also many superintendent associations have their
"The Thomas Shortman
Training Fund of Local 32BJ offers over 100 courses and seminars to eligible
members to help them advance their career in the building service industry,"
Karant says. "There are also other professional organizations like NYARM
that offer other training opportunities and programs at the NYC College of
Technology that allow members to gain higher-level technical skills."
The Thomas Shortman
Training Fund has instituted its own Superintendent/Resident Manager Diploma
Program based on the feedback of both labor and management representatives.
Russell says that NYARM is
always willing to help if someone is looking to further their education in
the building maintenance field, and that enhancing their credentials and
skillset could be important for their futures.
"Completion of this
program's series of courses and lectures, along with appropriate on-the-job
experience can help members access the next rung on the career ladder," she
guarantee anything though. According to MacGowan, you still need to bring
other skills and aptitudes to the table.
MacGowan says that since he
is an owner he is, "looking for a superintendent who can positively carry my
multimillion-dollar operation in a safe and most efficient way. In addition,
since [the superintendent] will be living in my building, I would make sure
that he or she and the rest of [the] family knows how to be a good
"The benefits [of continued
training for supers] include buildings getting qualified supers with skills
and technical knowledge that aid them in operating the building," Grech
says. "The drawback would be that the more requirements and certifications a
super has, the higher the pay for the super, thus more salary the building
will have to pay."
So when it comes to
certification, there are different things that people look for in terms of
To achieve the HPD
certification a super must successfully complete various seminars,
coursework and/or training in the following disciplines: Basic Carpentry,
Basic Electricity, Basic Plumbing, Carbon Monoxide, Air Pollution Control,
Fire Safety, Visual Assessment, Integrated Pest Management, Real Property
Ethics, Local Law 1 and Lead Safe Work Practices.
"HPD sets the tests and the
standards, but there is no renewal or continuing [education] requirements
that I know of." says Grech. "NYSTA is working with HPD to develop a
shortcut where experienced superintendents need not go to all the classes.
But based on interviews, reference checks and pre- testing, a qualified
super only needs to take six short classes to be deemed competent. NYSTA is
hoping that HPD will grant us permission for that soon. It would take the
burden off HPD and allow qualified supers speedy certifications. It's a
When it comes to issues of
money, supers normally don't have to worry about paying for their
certification and educational courses.
"HPD courses are free,"
says Karant. "Union classes are free…and the union requires owners to pay
According to Grech, NYSTA
classes have a modest fee, and if a person cannot afford to take the
classes, NYSTA will either float the entire class or up to 90 percent of it.
One would have to check with their accountant, but most likely the classes
would meet IRS regulations as a deduction. Some superintendent associations
use membership fees to present programs to enhance member knowledge.
Additionally, some are looking to provide certification training for their
members, NYSTA, in particular.
Remember, a superintendent
is as important to a building as just about anyone and finding a good one is
vital to a building's success.
"Most people cannot
understand the far-reaching responsibilities of a super," MacGowan says.
"They think he is just a guy who fixes things. In fact, a super is
responsible to a degree for the health, security and welfare of the
residents, as well as responsible for the standard of living within the
building. Thus a super can make or break a building."
Keith Loria is a
freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.