With rents on the rise and the e-commerce industry showing no signs of slowing, the livelihood of small businesses in New York City remains under threat. Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents parts of Brooklyn, hopes to address the high rate of retail vacancies across the city with legislation to regulate commercial rents, as Gothamist first reported. “It’s a complex problem,” Levin, who will introduce a bill to the City Council next week, told the website. “We think it’s time to introduce this into the conversation.”
It seems like every day, New Yorkers lose another beloved neighborhood restaurant, cafe, bar or theater. According to a report released in September by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the rate of retail vacancies has risen in the last 10 years, up to 5.8 percent in 2017 from 4 percent a decade prior. During this 10-year period, retail rents rose by 22 percent across the city, with other neighborhoods hit ever harder by increases.
Levin told Gothamist his bill would provide a “clear and predictable framework” for rent increases for small businesses. “It’s fair to property owners,” he said. “We’re certainly not taking away their livelihoods. We’re saying there has to be some fair rubric in all of this to allow smaller businesses to compete for their existence.”
And Levin’s proposal is not a new idea. From 1945 to 1963, New York City had commercial rent control, instated by the state legislature as the city faced a shortage of retail space during and following World War II, according to Crain’s. After lawmakers deemed the legislation unnecessary, rent control was not renewed.
Last October, the Council held a public hearing about the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which provides commercial tenants with a 10-year lease renewal and offers arbitration when landlords and tenants do not agree on the terms of a new lease. There has been no action to move forward the bill, opposed by the Real Estate Board of New York, since.
But the Council did approve in July legislation that establishes a public database of commercial properties and vacancy rates in the city. The “Storefront Tracker” bill, introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, aims to provide more details on current vacancies and occupancy status through an online database.
“You can’t fix a problem when you can’t even begin to measure it,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement following the bill’s passage this summer. “This database will be a boost for business owners looking for possible places to rent, those facing lease negotiations, and countless other possible services, which is why I’m proud the Council voted to pass this bill today.”
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