Q. Our super is lazy and ineffectual, but whenever I speak to a board member about replacing him, they always shrug and say it's hard to do anything because he's belongs to the union.

Can that really be true--are we saddled with him for life? 

A.  Terminating a super who belongs to the union is not impossible, but it's usually lengthy, contentious and unpleasant all around, say our experts.

That's partly because the stakes are so high: For a live-in super, beging fired is tantamount to an eviction in addition to a job loss, notes property manager Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management
 
"Before the formal process starts, reported complaints must pass a litmus test of sorts," says Usztoke. "Boards must ask whether the complaint based on an interpersonal issue between one shareholder and the superintendent?  Is it a shift in expectations of a changing building residency?  Or is it that the super’s work performance has deteriorated over the tenure of his/her employment?"
 
According to real estate attorney Steven Wagner of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, "The key in dealing with a lazy and ineffective super is to be sure that the responsibilities are clear, that they are acknowledged by the super and the union rep, that violations are address consistently and fairly with documentation, the receipt of which is acknowledged by the super, that sanctions against the super are incrementally increasing; that the record is clear to establish that the super has been given every opportunity to shape up but has failed, and that termination of the super is justified for cause."
 
Your board should work closely with the building's property manager, says Wagner, as well as the building's attorney, and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB), which negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of property owners and advises them in personnel maters like these.
 
Here are some of the steps involved in working toward a termination, says Wagner:
 
  • Write a job description including a list of responsibilities. The RAB, which deals with these issues regularly should have some written materials to assist. 
  • Meet with the super and review the duties and responsibilities. Give the super a copy of them. Get the super’s feedback to determine if he/she has been performing ineffectually or not performing and also whether he/she has any comments that could sharpen the items on the list.  Have the super acknowledge receiving of a copy of the rules and responsibilities.  If possible, create benchmarks or timelines for accomplishing long overdue or forgotten work items and projects.  Prepare a memorandum of the meeting to serve as a record of what was discussed at the meeting.  Review the list with the union representative.  
  • Next, the managing agent, the house committee or the board  should monitor the super’s performance and ask the managing agent and/or a board member to bring any shortfalls to the super’s attention.  If they're significant,  write them up and have the write-ups acknowledged by the super. 
  • If problems persist, the board can increase its response in proportion to include suspensions. Again, have the super acknowledge the write-ups leading to suspensions. When there is a pattern of defiencies documented through write-ups and suspensions, warn the super that he is in danger of being fired.  If that doesn't work, termination is in order. 

At any point during the process, "the super may see the writing on the wall and be willing to discuss a buyout," says Wagner.

In the end, agrees Usztoke, "money talks. An amicable departure may be negotiated with the right amount of ‘green’--usually a figure that is far more than a board initially considers appropriate."
 
No matter how things end, plan for plenty of drama along the way.
 
"Expect the superintendent will rally his or her supporters in the building community," says Usztoke. "That’s where everything can mutate into quite a spectacle."

 


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