Money & Ethics


Should New Residents Contribute Equally to Community Funds?

Knight Kiplinger

Acknowledging building workers' helpfulness is always appropriate and welcome. But should all residents pay the same amount?



Q. A few days after I moved into my new apartment, a neighbor came around collecting from all the tenants in our small building for a retirement gift for the longtime janitor, who was apparently very popular. He said everyone was chipping in $200. I told him that I hadn’t met the man and, as a new tenant, hadn’t benefited from his service over the years, so I declined to contribute. Now the neighbor is telling everyone I’m a cheapskate. In fact, I’m quite generous to service workers, especially those who go the extra mile to be helpful. Who’s right on this?

See Also -- QUIZ: How Much Should You Tip?

A. Your position makes sense and is ethically sound, and your neighbor was out of line in saying anything negative about any tenant’s donation, whatever the amount. People have different means, and $200 isn’t chicken feed. (Don’t I recall an episode of Friends in which Ross faced this dilemma?) Your neighbor should also have contacted the previous tenant of your apartment—who did benefit from the janitor’s serv­ices, perhaps for a lengthy period, and should have contributed to the retirement kitty.

That said, it would have been diplomatic of you to make a small contribution as a neighborly gesture; after all, even new tenants get some benefit from the tidiness of the building under the retiring janitor’s watch.

A similar quandary is faced by new tenants who move in at year-end and are approached to make a contribution to the employees’ holiday fund. An ideal solution is for them to make donations that are proportional to the amount of time they were residents of the building.

I’m pleased to hear that you are usually generous when you tip service employees, especially those with a genuine ethic of serving others. Many service workers are paid a small hourly wage and depend upon tips. Acknowledging their helpfulness throughout the year, and especially at year-end, is always appropriate and welcome.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.



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