Learn the Dirty Truth Behind Cleaning NYC Buildings
And Make the Perfect Cheat Sheet Cleaning Checklist that Solves it, Even on a Part-Time Budget
(Part 1 - Getting it all Down)
So, you think you’ve found your perfect part-time building superintendent and you’re ready to discuss things in greater detail, such as a cleaning schedule. Now what?
Cleaning is probably the most overlooked and undervalued part of discussions when hiring a part-time super. It’s easy to think that nothing could go wrong with cleaning - until things do go wrong. In our interviews of many Boards and building managers throughout the years, you can bet that when there’s a complaint directed at a super, it’s usually about the cleaning.
And you probably guessed it right: it makes you look bad as the building manager or board member who brought him/her in. It looks either like you didn't do your due diligence in researching the building super's credentials before hiring him or that you didn't prepare his role properly by giving him sufficiently clear guidelines to follow.
Your building superintendent is going to be pissed off too... at you. He/she's going to translate your criticism to feel that you're all of a sudden (perhaps even disingenuously) trying shoehorn more tasks into the already little time that he has to do everything on his vague list. You weren't clear from day one, he'll say. It's your fault.
So, it’s important to set this straight from the beginning. In writing. As clear as day. In the previous article, I discussed why an incoming Part-time Super needs to have a clear and specific task lists to go by.
Moreover, this list not only has be clear and specific, but also practical and doable by the Super. Nothing destroys a Super’s motivation than being assigned too much work in too little time, which will only set your Super up for failure. Then you’re back to square one.
So, for a perfect cleaning list, you’ll need to:
- Determine exactly what goes into your perfect cleaning list.
- Then, you’ll need to prioritize the tasks on this list.
- Next, you’ll figure out how many times these tasks need to be done.
- Finally, you'll find a specific day-to-day schedule to distribute the task load optimally.
So, this article has three parts. As you read Part 1, you’ll hit the "what" of the cleaning list. In Part 2, you'll put them in order. In Part 3, you'll assign the right frequency to the tasks that you put together. Then, you’ll learn how to distribute these tasks evenly and fairly.
At the end of Part 3, I’ll provide some FREE downloadable templates that you can use to start your own kick-ass cleaning schedule.
Let’s start with WHAT goes into a cleaning list. What goes into it? There’s so many areas of a building to clean. Where do you start?
The good news is that balancing these ingredients doesn’t have to be so hard if you use a simple four-point guideline I created under the principle W-E-L-L, which stands for:
These three categories represent what should be covered minimally in your cleaning list and also how this list should be prioritized, no matter the size of the building. Let’s go into more detail about each of these points.
“W” stands for:
Welfare (Residents’ Well-Being, Health, Safety and Protection)
Your residents’ welfare - their safety, health and protection - is the most important category you’ll want to cover, which is why these tasks must go first when creating a cleaning list. These tasks include removing garbage and recycling, keeping refuse storage areas clean, keeping air ducts clean and wiping down areas frequently touched by residents, such as intercom or elevator buttons, which all directly impact the health, safety, security and protection of your residents.
Buildings can also have different rules for collecting and storing garbage/recycling. Sometimes, refuse rooms are on every floor, which must be emptied and organized. Other buildings permit residents to place their trash outside their apartment doors for the super to collect. Whatever it is, your cleaning list must integrate these building policies and procedures into everyday practice as top priority because these task deal directly with residents' welfare.
Okay, residents’ welfare has now been covered. The next important category is:
Equipment and Infrastructure (Safety and Protection)
Any cleaning that prevents malfunctioning of equipment is a priority. Equipment breakdowns are not only surprisingly costly to fix or replace at times, it can also affect basic services to the point of causing big inconvenience.
For example, cleaning debris from the grooves in the elevator saddle can prevent the elevator door from getting stuck while opening or closing, which can derail the elevator service for the whole building.
And roof and drains. The roof is a very costly part of a building that should be maintained by keeping it free of debris. And a blocked drain and the pooling of water it creates can cause big damage as it leaks into the units below.
Next down the priority list is:
NYC requires building owners to keep the sidewalk in front of their properties, and eighteen inches from the curb into the street, clear of litter. They also check to make sure that the sanitation laws are being followed and that things are being disposed of properly. A ticket can run 100 to 300 buckaroos per incident.
In addition, the City also mandates deadlines for snow clearing and issues violations if they aren’t met. Thus, following such legal requirements is a huge responsibility of the super and his schedule should include such tasks.
Sometimes, a building has strange, arcane laws that require special attention by the Super. For instance, a law that permits residents to place garbage and recyclables outside their doors for private pickup by the building super.
Whatever are the special circumstances of your building, the cleaning schedule must include these to avoid any legal headaches for the building.
"Lifestyle" includes any task that enhances the resident’s enjoyment of living at the building and gives residents a deep comforting sense that their building - and they, as an extension - are being cared for through a consistent and predictably clean and orderly environment. This means making sure those areas frequented by residents, such as the lobby, are maintained to a high standard and that they’re not only clean, but also appear and smell clean. This category also includes the elevator cab, hallways, stairwells, common gathering areas like a roof deck, laundry room, gym, courtyard, etc.
But, you’re not done until you’ve broken down each “Lifestyle’” area to its individual components. In the lobby are the entrance door, glass, fixtures, furniture, mailboxes and maybe even a transom. In the hallways are the base or crown moldings, door trims and windows. Stairs have railings and balusters. The laundry room has washers with soap trays to clean and a waste basket that constantly fills up with lint from the dryers. These must all be included in your final cleaning list.
There! By following my WELL guideline, you should've compiled a complete cleaning list of everything needed for your building. It should look like this:
This is a sample I use for a building with 25 units, with gym, roof patio, laundry room and some other amenities. You can see that I organized the tasks using a spreadsheet because this list will change or evolve over the course of putting together your ultimate list. A spreadsheet format will help you collect and gather your information effectively in one place. Any later modifications of the list are easier from the controls of a spreadsheet.
As you can see, I've organized the tasks by categories that I thought were sensible. It's not critical at this time to put them all into the right buckets or to even name them properly. It's just important to get everything on the list and to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Remember that the spreadsheet is supposed to be the ultimate comprehensive list for your building, so simply add tasks to this spreadsheet as you go. It's okay not to get everything at one shot; it'll build up over time.
Now what? With so many areas of a building to clean, from the basement to roof, and so many little details for cleaning, how can a part-time Super cover them all when there’s only so much time that’s afforded?
So, are you ready for the DIRTY TRUTH?
The dirty truth (sorry for being dramatic, but I also mean it literally!) is that a part-time schedule rarely allows enough time for the Super to clean every area of the building in the way they really should. More things are left dirty that we’d like to admit and spot cleaning is often chosen over complete, thorough cleaning. With so many responsibilities of the part-time Super, cleaning can quickly get backed up.
When the burden is too great for the Super to get everything done, cutting the corners becomes the default method, which is doomed for complaints, frustration and ultimately, failure.
In order to turn a comprehensive, yet unrealistic cleaning plan into a manageable and actionable cleaning task list, the key is to prioritize those tasks. You don't want to overwhelm your Super with too heavy schedule, but you do want to give him some guidelines to focus on the right things when time is too tight to do everything. This gives him a sense of accomplishment even when things are not going all the way forward as planned.
A priority strategy helps you not to despair the small details or sweat the minor battles of cleaning, but instead, to focus on the larger game plan and keep it on track. By following some simple rules in the next part, order will appear from thin air.
Now you're ready for Part 2.
Next Article: "PART 2: Put first things first"