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How can I get my building's uncooperative super to actually fix things?

By Virginia K. Smith  | October 31, 2016 - 11:59AM

I have an uncooperative super, who essentially runs our entire building, but refuses to respond to requests, saying we have to go through management instead. What can I do to make him more cooperative, and to respond to my requests for service?

While you may ultimately have to ask the building's management to intervene, our experts say it's first worth trying to solve your problem via diplomatic channels.

"The tenant-to-super relationship is at times people's most complex one in that it involves daily contact as well as people's homes," says Dean Roberts, a co-op and condo attorney with Norris, McLaughlin, & Marcus. "And in some cases supers do seem to run the buildings."

The question then, Roberts says, falls to this: "Do you use honey or vinegar, in other words, do you try to befriend the super and gain his cooperation, or deal with his superiors to get him to do the needed work by force?" While both methods have their pros and cons, says Roberts, "my experience has been that in dealing with supers, a positive, friendly approach is always the best way to start." (Indeed, as we've written previously, sometimes an extra tip to the super can make a world of difference. Plus, you'll find many building staffers more obliging than usual this time of year as holiday tipping season approaches, so it's not a bad time to make major asks.)

But you don't necessarily have to shell out cash to improve the situation. "A friend of mine had a problem with her super and was ready to commence litigation, but I advised that she bake him a plate of cookies and try to work it out," said Roberts. "The end result was that not only did the super fix the problem, he went out of his way to be helpful and the two are now best friends."

But if your super refuses to budge in response to cash, cookies, or conversation, it's time to go over his head, and take the problem to management. "Put your requests in writing, copying the managing agent [or landlord] and if that fails, copy the board president on your communications," says Thomas Usztoke, vice president of Douglas Elliman Property Management.

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