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Should we outsource our super?

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Q. I live in a new doorman condo building with about 100 units. Our building's super gets a one-bedroom worth $750,000 which is 100% financed at 8 percent interest.

We could probably rent him a place across the street for $3,000 a month less than it costs to keep him here, sell his apartment and put the $750,000 into our surplus fund.

Is there such a thing as a non-live-in super? What are the pros and cons of having him across the street instead of in the building? Are we going to have a blow-up rat outside our building if we try to do this? (He's union.)

A.  There is definitely such a thing as a non-live-in super, confirm our BrickTank experts.

While local housing laws require that a super or janitor live in or within 200 feet of buildings with more than 13 units, co-ops and condos (as well as rentals with on-site landlords) fall within an exception for “owner-occupied” buildings, according to real estate lawyers Robert Braverman, Steven Wagner and Jeffrey Reich.

You’ll still need to check your offering plan, which might restrict the sale of the super’s apartment.

And then there is the union issue.  

“Union contracts generally require that a super’s new apartment be ‘the same or better’ as the previous one,” says Braverman.  “This is a subjective standard and you should discuss the proposed new apartment with your super.”

At a minimum, says Braverman, “the new apartment should have the same approximate square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms and amenities as the old.”

If your super agrees to the move, the union should too, he says.

The primary benefit to booting your super across the street is cost savings, but there are plenty of negatives, including less service, security and oversight.

Indeed, says resident manager Curt Bergeest, “the superintendent’s presence is needed for the staff to know they cannot slack off.  If the staff know the superintendent is lurking about, they are more likely to work harder.”

While it's true that some supers may prefer not to live where they work, Bergeest questions whether “that is the type of superintendent you want for building and your investment.  You want a superintendent who is going to be diligent and who has pride in the building.  Living in the building is the best way for this to happen, in my opinion.”

Along with services rendered, your building’s resale values and marketability could also take a hit.

“Buildings often make sacrifices and will pay more to maintain the ‘full service’ or ‘full time live-in super’ aspect of their co-op or condo,” says real estate broker Deanna Kory. “It helps maintain the prestige and perceived or real level of service that the building offers.”

As an alternative, Kory says she has seen “some supers’ apartments built in the basement spaces if that is viable and can be constructed according to building code.”

Finally, make sure you have a realistic grasp of the cost savings from relocating your super. 

Unlike the mortgage payment on your super’s apartment, the cost of a rented unit will likely go up with time. Also, since the apartment is 100% financed and the mortgage is fairly new, it doesn’t appear from the facts at hand that your building will reap $750,000 for the surplus fund by selling the apartment, since that money will be used to pay off the loan. 

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