In May, Jose Diaz, longtime live-in super at 248 McKibbin Street, decided to ask for a raise. He had been working 70-plus hours per week maintaining one half of the Mckibbin Lofts (as well as two other properties overseen by Carnegie Management) for $1000 per week; this would have been his first pay increase in nine years. During the meeting, his boss, Isaac Jacobowitz, told Diaz that — raise aside — he and his family would have to vacate the three-bedroom apartment they’d lived in since he’d gotten the job 12 years earlier.
“He wants that apartment back, because he can charge $5,000 a month for it now,” says Diaz. “He said, ‘Don’t take it personally. It’s just business.’” Diaz decided to quit when he got the news. In a building as big as the McKibbin Lofts, he didn’t think he’d be able to respond to the tenants’ needs fast enough if he lived off site.
Being a super at the McKibbin Lofts has always been a singular challenge. The four-story warehouse, constructed in 1942 during Brooklyn’s industrial boom, was converted sloppily into loft apartments around 2000. The building was poorly managed over the next decade, making issues like leaks a regular part of daily life along with rampant bedbug and maggot infestations. (Carnegie has previously disputed the latter.) Parties were constant — with skateboards flying regularly out the window and tenants and guests squeezing into DIY punk shows by the hundreds. Longtime resident Tom McDonough said that in the three years after he moved into the building in 2007, there was unusually high turnover among supers. One, who’d been there a few years, likely quit because “the management company overworked him and burnt him out,” he says, adding that the successor lasted just a few months and was regularly “screaming and yelling at people,” stressed from his workload. “He was not cut out for the gig,” McDonough says.
Diaz, who started as 248’s super in 2010, somehow didn’t mind the constant pandemonium. Yes, the bass booming from club-grade speakers kept him and his wife up till dawn, and yes, he was regularly forced to clean up puke in the stairwell on Sunday mornings. Still, he befriended the tenants and kept them safe. He set up the cables and power for their summer rooftop concerts and jerry-rigged one apartment so all the rooms could get the AC breeze in the summer. He gamely kicked out knife-wielding party crashers from the building, helped clean up after various fires and leaks, busted open a wall to save a pet cat, and (more than once) checked on a resident at their mother’s request.
Rahul Nath, CEO of a live-streaming startup, says he specifically moved to McKibbin two years ago, despite its cesspool reputation, because a friend had told him Diaz “just takes care of everything.” Once, soon after Nath moved in, “This guy was trying to get into this woman’s apartment at 3 a.m. She was scared for her life. Someone texted Jose that this was going down, and he came up, calmed the guy down, and got him to go back into his apartment. That’s the sort of the dude he is.”
After Diaz started telling residents about his family’s looming removal from McKibbin, they were collectively furious. Homemade signs printed with “Hell No José Won’t Go” began popping up all over the walls and elevators. People flooded the building’s ticket-request system with anecdotes about how much of a positive impact Diaz has had on both the building and their personal lives. A Change.org petition emerged — “We the undersigned, all current tenants at 248 Mckibbin Street, respectfully ask the management of the building to keep our superintendent José Diaz and his family living on the premises,” it read.
“Jose is calm in his never-ending duties,” wrote one resident in the petition’s comments section. “Anyone else would drown. I don’t think Carnegie can fully appreciate the work Jose does in the building and the never-ending amount problems and repairs because no one from the management company lives in the building. No one from management truly understands the beast, for better or worse, that is 248 McKibbin.”
Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel appraisers, says he can see this kind of situation happening more often. “Landlords hemorrhaged in 2020 and are continuing to try to make up for lost time for the heavy losses that they were subject to,” he says. “Plus there’s a sense that the level of rents being paid right now is not necessarily sustainable. Which means no one is going to want to leave ‘unproductive space’ just sitting there in a market characterized by bidding wars, record prices, and lack of supply.”
According to Sam Himmelstein, a real-estate lawyer focusing on tenants rights, it’s unlikely that Diaz, who doesn’t have union representation, has much recourse against being forced out. “The law is basically that if the super got the apartment solely as an incident of his or her employment, then the landlord doesn’t need a reason to evict him,” Himmelstein says. Carnegie, of course, is still legally required to ensure a super is nearby to address residents’ (many) needs. Himmelstein predicts that the company will house Diaz’s replacement in a unit in the neighborhood at a cheaper rent — and for a lower wage. (In a statement to Curbed, Carnegie Management said that Diaz resigned from his job after the management company refused to give him a substantial raise due to “many complaints we have been receiving about his performance” and that “he had taken another job, which appears to have led him to neglect his duties as super of 248 McKibben Street.” Diaz disputes these claims, saying that management offered him a raise of $350 per week but would have required him to take on several additional responsibilities with no additional help — all while living off site.)
Diaz says he has made peace with the fact that his time at McKibbin is coming to an end. He has a month before he’s out of a job; afterward, he’s considering starting his own plumbing service. First, though, he plans to take a much-needed month off to unwind. It will be his first vacation in 12 years.