What Are the Pros and Cons of Living in a Doorman Building In NYC?

Pros of living in a doorman building in NYC include better security, convenience, faster resolution in the case of urgent repairs and better maintenance of common areas. Cons of living in a full-service building with a doorman include less privacy, higher carrying costs, onerous and possibly selective rule enforcement and the risk of conflict with building personnel.

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Pros & Cons:

Security

A key advantage of living in a doorman building in NYC is that you and your packages will likely be safer. A thief or other troublemaker is far less likely to prey on a building that has a doorman physically stationed at the entrance.

Moreover, full-service buildings have more foot traffic in the lobby which makes it harder for thieves to find a window of opportunity to strike even if the doorman is temporarily distracted or off duty.

The advantage of having a doorman (or doorwoman/doorperson) is especially pronounced when it comes to package security. Doorman buildings typically store packages under lock and key.

There is usually a chain of custody from when they’re dropped off, handed to the doorman and locked in the package room. As a result, it’s nearly impossible for a thief to physically access the packages stored in the mailroom of a large building without getting intercepted.

Package theft is a huge problem in post-COVID NYC and for smaller buildings in particular. Career criminals are known to habitually prey on smaller buildings due to the lack of security and low owner foot traffic throughout the day. The sweet spot is usually buildings with around 10 units or less. Because there are very few apartments, there are frequent periods when nobody is entering or exiting the building.

Once a thief successfully targets a building, the criminal will likely return frequently to steal packages. In some cases, we’ve heard that the same thief or group of criminals will ransack packages left in the lobby several times a month.

The pattern of theft typically starts by the thief buzzing all units in the building and hoping that a careless or distracted owner will simply buzz the door without asking questions. Other times the thief may say that she or he has a delivery or is from UPS, FedEx, etc.

Pros of living in a doorman building in NYC include security and convenience. Cons include less privacy, added cost, more rules and potential conflict.

Once the thief gains entry, he or she will likely explore the lobby and basement to look for things to steal and to identify other security vulnerabilities which may be exploited in the future.

In one instance we’re familiar with, a thief broke into the maintenance room in the basement and accessed a cabinet which had management’s key copies for every unit in the building. Needless to stay, all the owners had to change their locks!

After successfully accessing the building, this same thief repeatedly ransacked the lobby over subsequent weeks and months.

He entered each time by using a lock pick while wearing a mask. Hilariously, the thief was also caught on camera smoking through his mask while he broke into the building with a lock pick. After entering the lobby while continuing to smoke, he then proceeded to rip off the paper taped to the front door which was a print-out of prior footage showing him stealing from the building!

Aside from reducing package theft, a doorman will also add some degree of personal security by screening visitors and calling you for permission before allowing them to head to your apartment.

However, security protocols vary by building. It’s not uncommon for a doorman to not bother to even check a guest’s ID before granting access to your apartment. Therefore, there are no guarantees that having a doorman will profoundly improve your safety.

Convenience

Doorman buildings are quite convenient when it comes to receiving packages and deliveries, allowing family and guests to access your apartment and gaining access in the event you lose or forget your keys.

Having a doorman is most advantageous when it comes to deliveries which require a signature or valuable packages. If you live in a building without a doorman, your only alternative is to have signature-required or valuable packages delivered to your office.

However, this can be somewhat embarrassing if you work in a less anonymous setting such as a trading floor or an open office layout. The last thing you want is for your co-workers (i.e. competition) to start theorizing and spreading rumors that you spend your workday shopping online.

Moreover, without a doorman you’ll never be able to safely or easily receive any surprise or other unexpected delivery. Be prepared to scramble every time you receive an unexpected call from a delivery person while you’re at the office. Are you comfortable calling/texting your neighbors or super to see if they happen to be around to sign for your package in the middle of the work day?

If nobody is around to help and the delivery person leaves the package, what are the odds in post-COVID NYC that your parcel will still be in the lobby when you get home from work?

Having a doorman can also spare you the inconvenience of having to arrange a key handoff for friends or family who may be visiting. Instead of using a highly insecure lockbox or begging your neighbor to help, you can simply instruct your visitors to collect and return your apartment keys from the doorman.

Similarly, a doorman can be a literal lifesaver if you ever misplace or forget your keys. Doorman buildings typically have a spare set of keys for each unit at the front desk. This can save you from being shaken down by an opportunistic locksmith to the tune of hundreds of dollars. We’re familiar with one instance where a locksmith charged an owner $800 just to change the lock on the apartment front door late on a Friday night.

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Problem resolution

Living in a full-service building with a doorman will make it easier for you to resolve urgent maintenance issues such as a clogged bathtub or a leaking A/C. This is because the doorman will likely already know who can be called for a quick repair.

Moreover, buildings with a doorman usually have other staff such as a live-in super or maintenance personnel who can quickly tackle urgent issues.

If you encounter maintenance issues in a small building, you’ll be on the hook for finding a repair person. This means you’ll likely need to ask your neighbors for a recommendation or contact your management company. 

Unfortunately, managing agents for smaller buildings are notoriously hard to reach and unresponsive. In short, it usually takes longer to make urgent repairs in smaller vs. full-service buildings.

Better maintenance of common areas

A doorman building typically has additional personnel such as dedicated maintenance professionals, porters and possibly on-site management. This generally results in the common areas being cleaner. 

This isn’t always the case however. Sadly, it’s far too common to see larger buildings in NYC with complacent staff and management who allow the appearance and cleanliness of the building to slip over time. For example, we’re familiar with one large building that can’t seem to stop the front door from squeaking despite having numerous full-time maintenance personnel.

Wouldn’t you agree that it if a door squeaked the day after oiling it, it would make sense to try a more viscous type of lubricant? Sadly, some maintenance workers and managing agents are so jaded, unmotivated and simply bored that they suffer from extreme myopia and become somewhat robotic.

Moreover, how can owners possibly expect building management to competently maintain more complicated components of the building if they can’t figure out how to oil a door?

Higher carrying costs

An obvious disadvantage of living in a doorman building is that it will cost you extra money, both in the form of higher monthly common charges or maintenance and tipping.

The cost of building employees is extremely high in NYC for a number of reasons including unionization and tight labor market in the city. Moreover, the cost of each building employee can be nearly double her or his salary when factoring in insurance and other benefits.

These extra costs result in higher carrying costs for apartments in full-service buildings compared to units in no-frills condos or co-ops.

That being said, the per-unit cost of a doorman might not be as high as you’d expect in very large buildings or complexes. This is because there are lots of units to split up the bill, both for doormen and special assessments. A doorman will cost you the most in mid-size buildings since there are relatively few apartments to support the cost.

Aside from higher monthly carrying costs, you’ll also pay more for a doorman in the form of year-end tips. While tipping is not strictly required per se, many owners feel obligated to tip out of fear of retaliation as opposed to rewarding a doorman for upstanding work.

In other words, even if you think your doorman is rude, lazy or incompetent, you might still feel obligated to tip at the end of the year to prevent her or him from becoming lazier, meaner or even more incompetent.

Year-end tipping is even more annoying if your building has multiple attendants. What if one doorman is significantly better than the other? Do you only tip the good one and risk the bad doorman’s performance declining further?

Aside from the awkward nature of year-end tipping customs, you may simply find it uncomfortable to have someone constantly helping you out everyday. If you start to feel guilty, you may feel compelled to constantly tip. Over time, this may drive you to avoid the doorman since you don’t want to face the guilt or cost of dealing with him or her.

Less privacy

You’ll have less privacy when living in a doorman building in NYC. After all, you will be observed and acknowledged every time you enter or leave the building. This means that the doorman will also see who you’re walking with, who your guests are and what you’re carrying. The doorman will also see where your packages are coming from.

Do you repeatedly come home tipsy? Is there a risk you’ll reveal things you regret while walking through the lobby inebriated? Do you have frequent (and new) late night friends? Do you order pizza twice a week? Everything you do will be observed by the doorman.

Moreover, doormen and building personnel are known to chat. After all, they often spend hours sitting around doing virtually nothing. The only thing there is to do is chat! As a result, doormen and building employees inevitably spread gossip about residents. Word can get around quickly. Did you enjoy playing telephone in elementary school?

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Annoying small talk

Having a doorman can also be annoying because you’ll likely feel obligated to engage in chit chat and small talk. While some Type A New Yorkers may appreciate having someone to salute while entering and exiting the building, others may find it to be downright uncomfortable. After all, you typically leave your apartment in the morning when you’re tired and return after work when you’re tired. These aren’t exactly the moments when a typical person is eager to strike up a conversation.

Even if you detest small talk, you might feel obligated to say something to the doorman every time you see him out of fear she or he might get offended by your silence and penalize you in the future. As a result, the sense of obligation to engage in small talk with your doorman can start to feel almost as punishing as the need to chit chat with co-workers and your boss.

Risk of conflict

Another downside of living in a doorman building is that you may not always have the best relationship with the doorman. If you happen to have a bad day and snap at the doorman, he or she could hold this against you for weeks, months or years. It’s also possible that one or more of the doormen in your building is simply not a nice person.

What if one of your guests is rude to the doorman? What if the doorman is nasty to your guest and it triggers a conflict? As the unit owner, you’ll likely be held accountable for a long period into the future.

There’s nothing worse than seeing someone you don’t like (or someone who doesn’t like you) every time you enter or exit your building.

It can get really awkward, and since doormen in NYC are virtually impossible to fire, you’ll likely sell and move out long before that rude doorman gets fired or finds another job.

Even if a doorman commits an egregious act against you, he or she is unlikely to be fired. This is because most NYC condo and co-op boards are complacent and seek the path of least resistance. This usually means doing nothing whenever an issue is presented to them.

Onerous and selective rule enforcement

Having a doorman means that the building’s house rules are more likely to be enforced. This can be advantageous since it will reduce the risk of your neighbor being loud and disruptive or engaging in endless, unauthorized renovation work.

On the flip side, stricter rule enforcement can also be a huge inconvenience. For example, what if you need someone to hang a mirror or repaint one wall in your bathroom? Your doorman sees everyone who enters the building, so there’s no way to sneak in a handyman.

The doorman will call management to see if you have all the paperwork in order before allowing the repair person to enter your unit. As a result, your building’s managing agent will likely demand to see your repair person’s Certificate of Insurance (COI). Good luck getting a handyman to send you a COI for a one hour repair job! Ultimately, this rule enforcement will force you to hire a much more expensive repair person.

Moreover, a doorman or super can easily weaponize rule enforcement for personal gain by selectively applying it to you.

What do we mean by this? If a doorman doesn’t like you, he could be ultra strict with you while simultaneously bending the rules for owners who’ve tipped him more in the past. The insinuation? You’d better step up to the plate during tipping season this year.

Even more worryingly, your live-in super may expect you to hire him (or a friend who gives him a kickback) for all repair or renovation work in your unit even if they’re less competent and/or more expensive than an outside vendor.

What happens if you don’t relent and refuse to hire the super? You’ll go into the penalty box for the rest of your days as an owner. The super will hold a grudge against you and report you to management every time any external repair person shows up in the lobby and tries to go into your apartment.

This means that every time you need to repair or renovate your unit, your super will effectively hold your feet to the fire through the threat of maximum rule enforcement if you decide not to hire him or his friend. It’s effectively blackmail.

The risk of rule enforcement being weaponized by a super isn’t just a hypothesis but rather an actual ongoing situation we’ve heard about from a landlord client in a large condo building in Greenwich Village.

Every time this landlord turns over tenants and tries to bring in a handyman for basic repairs, the super (who frequently polices the lobby since he doesn’t seem to do much real work) immediately reports the landlord to the management company, who in turn asks for a litany of paperwork.

We’ve even heard of an instance in a large Manhattan co-op building where a live-in super bids on gut-renovation jobs for kitchens and bathrooms in the building.

The super’s primary sales pitch? The super claims that there is no approval or insurance required per the alteration agreement since he already works in the building, so it’s cheaper for an owner to hire him compared to an outside contractor. Is he paying a kickback to the management company in order for this questionable behavior to be tolerated? Talk about swampy behavior!

Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided.

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