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New York City enacts commercial tenant harassment reform

AmNews Staff Reports | 6/30/2016, 10:43 a.m.
Commercial landlords will face penalties for harassing their tenants.
Maria Isabel Housing in the Bronx Wikipedia

Commercial landlords will face penalties for harassing their tenants. This week, Mayor de Blasio signed proposed Introduction Number 851-B, an amendment to the New York City administrative code that intends to curtail the harassment of small businesses and other non-residential tenants, into law.

“[S]mall businesses in this City are hurting,” the bill’s sponsor, Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., said. “With real estate prices increasing and neighborhoods in all five boroughs rapidly gentrifying, too many landlords are raising commercial rents to levels that make it impossible for their tenants to stay in business. Pizza parlors, bodegas, restaurants, retail stores, artists and others are being gouged into paying sky-high rents to maintain occupancy. Sometimes landlords try to extort higher rents by harassing their tenants until they pay up or move out.”

Under this law, commercial landlords will face penalties for harassing their tenants. Intro 851-B will allow tenants to bring a cause of action in court with a civil penalty set between $1,000 and $10,000. The penalty will be in addition to any equitable, injunctive, compensatory and punitive damages that are found by the court.

“Many independent supermarkets across New York City unfortunately struggle with various kinds of landlord commercial harassment on a daily basis,” said National Supermarket President Rudy Fuertes. “This could range from a landlord discontinuing one or more essential services like heat or electricity, or preventing customers from entering the store. This legislation will prevent against this behavior, and the National Supermarket Association applauds Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. and the other Council members who helped bring this legislation to law.”

Other examples of tenant harassment covered under the legislation include threats of force, removing the door at the entrance, interfering with a commercial tenant’s business by commencing unnecessary construction or repairs and repeatedly commencing frivolous court proceedings against a commercial tenant.

“I opened a beauty salon in Brooklyn,” said small business owner Cafresa Hooker. “Over the next five years, I was forced to cope with major water damage, mold and no heat. The water damage was so extensive, coupled with the lack of heat, it caused my windows freeze and the glass to break.” Hooker added, “Landlords should not be able to bleed small businesses dry without fear of retribution. I am grateful for the passage of the 851-B and I hope the legislation serves as a deterrent against predatory landlords in the city.”

To assist commercial tenants who have been harassed by their landlords, the city allocated $1.2 million under the Department of Small Business Services Commercial Tenant Protection Legal Services Program. This program will provide legal assistance to small business owners, including lease review, factual investigations, legal research and lease negotiations.

“SBS is committed to helping small businesses start, operate and grow, and it is imperative that they are treated fairly by commercial landlords so that the city can maintain the longevity and diversity of its commercial corridors,” said Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services. “I want to thank Council Member Cornegy for his leadership in bringing forward this historic piece of legislation, which delivers invaluable tools allowing small businesses to defend themselves against harassment. This legislation is an important complement to the pre-emptive legal support that SBS provides on commercial leasing issues, which we will continue to expand.”