We are now in the season of little cash-filled envelopes for the doorman. This is also the season of oversize packages overwhelming the mailroom. And of lobby Christmas trees outshining humble menorahs. For millions of New Yorkers who live in apartment buildings, these things are as much a part of their holiday traditions as plum pudding and potato latkes.
Many of the people who navigate these poinsettia-decorated landscapes will spend the next week wondering how much to tip the handyman and whether the decorations affixed to their doors will pass muster with the neighbors. Clutching a glass of chardonnay at the building holiday party, they might roll their eyes at the nut-free menu — or, just as likely, balk at the lack of one.
So, in the spirit of holiday giving, here’s some advice from a few seasoned New York apartment dwellers.
If you want to bake cookies for your doorman, by all means do so, douse them in confectioners’ sugar and pass them around. But remember that sweets (or soap or candles) are no substitute for cash. “Cash is usually what’s expected,” said Paul Gottsegen, the president of Halstead Management.
How much should you give? That depends on the size and style of your building. If your condo has a full-service concierge and apartments that fetch eight figures, assume your budget item will dwarf that of someone in a small rental with only a super.
Still, it can be a fraught decision. “Whether you make a lot or you don’t make enough, you have to deal with a financial issue at a time when you’re already spending a lot,” said S. Jhoanna Robledo, the editor in chief of Brick Underground, a real estate website. The average tip for a super ranges from $75 to $175, according to the site’s tipping guide.
But everyone’s situation is different — and staff members understand that someone living on a fixed income, for example, may give only that plate of cookies. In other cases, you should give more. “When I did an 11-month renovation, I quadrupled my tip,” said Louise Phillips Forbes, an associate real estate broker at Halstead Property. Newcomers who signed a lease in September do not get a holiday pass. “If you just moved in at Thanksgiving, make this year a bigger acknowledgment,” Ms. Forbes said, since building staff members often lend a special helping hand to new tenants when they first arrive.
Above all, do not stiff the staff, even if the doorman is on your naughty list. “It seems like a glaring slap in the face to not give anything,” Ms. Robledo said.
Come December, lobbies turn into de facto post offices as packages roll in from online retailers. This year, some buildings have taken draconian measures to stem the flow. At the Chelsea rental where Rex Gonsalves lives, residents have been told that packages left for more than three days will be returned to the sender. But that rule could prove difficult to enforce since delivery services might not be inclined to retrieve packages that have been delivered to a correct address. Still, Mr. Gonsalves, an associate real estate broker at Halstead Property, learned his lesson when he returned home after Thanksgiving weekend to a pile of eight boxes and a grumpy doorman. “In hindsight, I should have waited until I came back to order it,” he said. Fortunately, none of his packages were returned, but the message was received: “The stress on the staff is so much,” he said.
At the exclusive Riverhouse in Battery Park City, staff members now deliver packages directly to the apartments, according to Ingrid C. Manevitz, a litigator and resident. Another Riverhouse policy: Staff members will not leave packages with children, to minimize the risk of ruining holiday surprises.
But the package pileup can make a nondoorman building a target. At John Carbone’s Bushwick rental, a number of packages left in the unattended lobby have been stolen since Thanksgiving. “It’s the season of stolen goods,” said Mr. Carbone, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens who unwittingly let a stranger into the building a few weeks ago, only to see her steal the contents of a box and leave. He now instructs carriers to deliver packages straight to his door, if possible, and he no longer holds the door for strangers.
This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve. So, if ever there was a year to ponder the holiday lobby color scheme, this is it.
“If somebody’s coming over for Hanukkah, and they walk into a lobby and they see a very religiously decorated tree with ornaments, they are offended,” said Dan Wurtzel, the president of First Service Residential New York.
To keep the peace, avoid overtly religious decorations. “You don’t want a Nativity scene,” Mr. Wurtzel said. Menorahs usually get a pass because they are small, frequently relegated to a corner and usually enjoy a glaringly brief display season. “For the menorah, it’s eight days and you’re out,” said Steven D. Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. On the other hand, “you get people saying, ‘Christmas ended a week ago. When is this stuff coming down?’” Kwanzaa rarely gets even a nod from the decorating team.
But beware of breaking tradition. Three years ago, newer shareholders of an Upper East Side co-op decided to invite Mrs. Claus to the holiday party instead of Santa. That did not go over well with the old guard, according to Mr. Gonsalves, whose client was among the newer residents. The decorating committee also made a misstep when it replaced the traditional Douglas fir tree with a futuristic version made of lights and wires, but no greenery. “It blew up into this whole thing about Christmas losing its meaning,” Mr. Gonsalves said. Now, the fir is back and peace is restored.
Although most buildings generally prohibit decorations on apartment doors, the Christmas wreath is usually tolerated. But when the family in 4C hangs a picture of baby Jesus for all to see, secular neighbors may object.
“If it’s distasteful, then we have to be the bad guy and go to the resident and say, ‘This is not appropriate,’” Mr. Wurtzel said.
Ignoring the neighbors is a tradition in New York, except once a year at the holiday party, where we’re expected to bond over croquettes and bubbly. Southgate, a co-op in Midtown East, brings in professional carolers to serenade residents in the garden. Others host more modest affairs.
But even a party can be reason to grumble. A Midtown West condo’s party was derailed this year when residents bickered about a gluten-free menu during an email exchange. Mr. Gonsalves’s client requested dairy-free, nonalcoholic eggnog just to be a pain, he said. The joke fell flat. The board canceled the party (but not just because of the eggnog comment).
For the most part, however, building parties go the way of other holiday functions. “Alcohol is usually served,” said Mr. Gottsegen, who offered one last piece of advice for revelers: “You don’t want to get too inebriated.”
Friday, December 16, 2016