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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog

Supersize Me!

by Dakota Smith, The New York Post, Feb. 5, 2005


THINK ITíS IMPOSSIBLE TO LIVE RENT-FREE IN THIS CITY? Think again. One way to save money - and make some - is to become a building super.

A little over a year ago, Craig Murgatroyd quit his job as a real-estate agent to make more money overseeing eight buildings in NoLIta.

It's a 10-hour-a-day job; Murgatroyd is usually up by 7:30 a.m., putting out the trash. The 26-year-old spends the rest of the day checking boilers, cleaning common spaces and fixing the tenants' faucets and toilets.

Murgatroyd - who has a background in repair work - also does renovation work on apartments. As a side gig, he also rents some apartments in the buildings.

Like most supers in this city, he gets free rent, and he notes that his salary is "above $40,000." Not a bad deal, considering his apartment on Mott Street would otherwise rent for $3,000 a month. And he and his wife don't pay utilities (most supers don't).

With his wife bringing in a healthy salary, the couple has been able to amass a tidy nest egg. Murgatroyd plans to quit his job in the next five or so years to concentrate on buying and renovating buildings.

"I don't know why more young people don't [work as supers]," says Murgatroyd. "When I first moved to New York two years ago, I couldn't believe that the rents were so high. This is the perfect job to be able to save money."

Granted, not everyone has the skills - or patience - to spend their days fixing toilets and responding to tenants.

"Most people have no idea what supers do," says Dick Koral, secretary-treasurer of the Superintendents Technical Association, a nonprofit organization of supers based in Brooklyn.

"There are the plumbing, electrical and waste disposal systems, and the elevators, and boiler room to take care of," he says. "It can be a thankless profession."

Up to $120K/Year

Local laws require that if an owner doesn't live in the building, a super must live there or within a one-block radius.

Salaries range from less than $10 an hour (in a low-rent building) to $120,000 a year (in one of the city's most upscale buildings). To make real money, supers have to work in middle- to high-end buildings; most of them require that supers have certificates allowing them to work on boilers, stand pipes and sprinklers, or air conditioners. In New York, supers can earn those certificates by taking classes at the Thomas B. Shortman School on Sixth Avenue.

In many other buildings, supers are required to have a fitness certificate (issued by the New York Fire Department). Koral says most of the city's 5,000 (largely male) supers have some type of handyman background, or have worked as doormen or porters.

Most New York supers get free rent and utilities. They can also get such perks as hugely discounted cable and Internet services.

Super for Life

For many supers, it's not just a job, but also a lifelong career. Peter Grech, president of the Superintendents Technical Association has worked 28 years as a super at various New York buildings.

Currently the super at 25 Fifth Ave. in Greenwich Village, he oversees a staff of 10: porters, doormen and other building workers. Living in the building for free, he makes "above $90,000" and gets health insurance through the union.

On a typical day, Grech inspects the building, oversees contractors and talks with tenants. His favorite part of his job? He's basically his own boss, and has been able to put away substantial savings.

Grech says the super business has evolved from simple maintenance of the building to maintenance of the tenants.

"Many tenants just want to be spoiled," says Grech, who has responded to tenants' requests to open champagne bottles, unscrew jars and check on (sometimes deceased) neighbors. "There's a lot of baby-sitting involved."

Meanwhile, for every "super" super, there are those who don't do enough to keep up buildings, according to Koral.

"You may have supers that just sweep and take out the trash," he says, "and many aren't keyed into larger societal problems like running a boiler efficiently to reduce pollution."

If you're interested in being a super, look in the newspaper want ads or call management companies. The high-end buildings may be harder to break into, according to Grech.

"It's like anything else in this city," he says. "It's all about who you know."


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