Advocates & Council Members Rally in Support of Small Business Bills

March 18, 2019

Group Urges Passage of Legislation to Empower Commercial Tenants

Today, advocates and NYC Councilmembers rallied in support of multiple bills directed at the loss of small businesses and cultural institutions in all five boroughs. Alongside members of the City Council, United for Small Business NYC (USBNYC), a citywide coalition of community organizations fighting to protect New York’s small businesses and non-residential tenants from the threat of displacement, urged the Council to use this moment to empower commercial tenants, hold unscrupulous landlords accountable, and create meaningful protections for New York’s small businesses.

“Commercial displacement is cultural displacement, and we are proud to work on solutions that allow New York’s beloved small businesses, and by extension the culture of our City, to prosper and thrive,” said Lena Afridi, Director of Economic Development Policy at the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD). “While there is more to be done, this package of bills is a huge step forward in ending landlord harassment, establishing meaningful protections for commercial tenants, and preserving the places that make New York City special.”

The rally preceded a legislative hearing in the Small Business Committee. USBNYC has been urging transformative changes to the small business landscape in neighborhoods across New York City for years. While both residential and commercial tenants in New York City are at risk of landlord harassment and subsequent displacement, commercial tenants lack any meaningful rights and protections.

Two bills under consideration mirror recent efforts to empower residential tenants.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson’s bill, Intro 1410, would create a Commercial Certificate of No Harassment for commercial buildings in rezoning neighborhoods. This follows the successful advocacy of the Coalition Against Tenant Harassment to establish a Residential Certificate of No Harassment in 2017. The legislation also expands the existing definition of Commercial Tenant Harassment, which was established in USBNYC’s first advocacy campaign in 2016.

“Unfortunately throughout our city, commercial tenants have little to no protections against unscrupulous landlords. Unlike housing tenants, there is a profound gap in oversight and policy that can greatly benefit commercial tenants, who play a vital role in shaping the character of our neighborhoods. Today marks the beginning in trying to change that history,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson (Bronx, District 16). “I am proud to sponsor Int. 1410-A, which will require a Certification of No Harassment prior to the approval of construction documents or the issuance of permits for demolition or renovation of certain commercial buildings. This bill will broaden the definition of commercial tenant harassment to include acts or omissions causing a commercial tenant to vacate or to surrender or waive their rights, and much more. By broadening the definition for harassment and requiring a CONH, we are taking a step towards more protections for our small businesses. The commercial vitality of our neighborhoods should be protected and preserved.”

Councilmember Mark Levine’s bill, Intro 1470, would establish a small business’s right to counsel, ensuring that commercial tenants facing displacement have a lawyer. This extends the City’s existing Right to Counsel program, a program achieved by the Right to Counsel NYC coalition in 2017.

“Our neighborhoods are hemorrhaging mom and pop stores at an increasingly alarming rate,” said Council Member Mark Levine (Manhattan, District 7). “These stores are the fabric and soul of our communities. With the rate of small business evictions rising for the third year in a row, we need to address this issue before the storefront vacancy crisis gets any worse. We’ve seen what happens when we give residential tenants an attorney in an eviction proceeding – they win. It’s time to extend that right to struggling small business owners.”

Other bills aim to tackle the harmful lack of information and data that has allowed unscrupulous property owners to displace small businesses.

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s bill, Intro 1473, establishes a registry for commercial spaces that have remained vacant for more than 90 days. Penalties are placed on property owners for every week of failure to report.

"As empty storefronts become ever more present in neighborhoods across New York, action is long overdue. By both mandating that property owners register their empty storefronts, and that the City maintain a database of all storefront properties, my legislation has created a mechanism to begin to address this crisis. Understanding the full scale of vacancies, and why they are occurring, is critical to developing effective policies on behalf of the thousands of small businesses who contribute so much to our city. Thank you to Speaker Johnson for his support and leadership, and thank you to our local businesses and community organizations for their powerful advocacy," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6).

Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s bill, Intro 1049, would require the Department of Small Business Services to assess the state of storefront businesses by collecting information on every neighborhood district’s small businesses.

Collectively, the bills represent a dramatic shift in the landscape for commercial tenants from just a few years ago. This is a major step forward in preserving the spaces that make New York City what it is.

“In order to protect small business owners from harassment and displacement in marginalized and recently-rezoned communities, we applaud the Council’s legislative proposals,” said Leah James, Lead Equitable Economic Development Organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. “We support the right of business owners to negotiate leases, understand their rights to take landlords to court for harassment, and connect with free legal representation.”

"An equitable and opportunity-rich New York City must support local, small businesses. Community Development Project works with grassroots groups and community coalitions like USBNYC to help make sure that people of color, immigrants, and low-income residents who have built our city are not pushed out in the name of ‘progress,” said Elizabeth Clay Roy, Executive Director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. “This includes providing meaningful commercial tenant protection and right to counsel for small businesses that help make up the backbone of our neighborhoods.”

“Exorbitant rents, predatory landlords, and pervasive gentrification are threatening the very existence of grassroots cultural spaces in New York City. We are encouraged by these legislative bills and we hope that our local government will take more steps soon to address the affordability crisis,” said Olympia Kazi of the NYC Artist Coalition.

"Sadly, tenant harassment is part of the business model for predatory landlords,” said Abigail Ellman, Director of Planning and Development at the Cooper Square Committee. “Commercial tenants are especially vulnerable to displacement because they have very limited rights. We need more tools to fight back and this package is an important step toward protecting our businesses on the Lower East Side and citywide."

 “It’s time for the city to save small businesses and protect our culture from displacement by big corporations. The city should have room for everybody, including small businesses,” said Mohamed Attia, Co-Director of the Street Vendor Project. “As street vendors, we are the ultimate version of small businesses, and we care a lot about how the city government support small businesses across the city in every aspect!” 

“The Microenterprise Project at Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) applauds the City Council’s commitment to support small business tenants in our city. Small businesses are the backbone of New York City’s unique economy; great strides have been made in protecting residential tenants in this City. It is now time to also attribute the City’s diverse history to hardworking microentrepreneurs by providing the legal protections they desperately need to secure their legacy in our vibrant city.”

“Immigrant small business owners across Queens are feeling the pressures of gentrification, which often leads to commercial tenant harassment and displacement. Small business displacement is cultural displacement. If we are going to preserve the economic well-being of our communities and the diversity and cultural vitality of our city, then City Council needs to take serious action to end the displacement of small businesses from our neighborhoods,” said Will Spisak, Director of Programs at Chhaya CDC.

“Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A applauds the City Council for taking important steps towards recognizing that commercial tenants have been left out of basic landlord-tenant protections for decades,” said Meah Clay, Esq., Director of the Community and Economic Development Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “Often living in the very neighborhoods where they work, today’s threatened small business owners are our low- to moderate-income, immigrant and minority neighbors providing culturally relevant, affordable goods and services to their underserved communities. Vacant storefronts, rising rents, and commercial tenant harassment threaten the preservation of these neighborhoods and, thus, the very residential tenants that we serve.”




USBNYC Membership:

Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD)—Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A—

Chhaya CDC—Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center—
Cooper Square Committee—Fourth Arts Block—Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—
Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition—NYC Artist Coalition—Street Vendor Project—
Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco)—Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS)

@USB_NYC #EndCulturalDisplacement

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