As Chair of the Council's Committee on Small Business, I feel blessed to be a voice for New York City's small businesses and to have spoken with so many small business owners around the city over the past year.
I've heard many success stories. But I've also heard cries for help, in particular from small business tenants experiencing unfair treatment from their landlords.
If you're a salon owner, you depend on the water being on. And if you run a business on an upper floor, you need a working elevator to get customers in and out. When a landlord disrupts essential services, businesses suffer, and that means their customers & employees also suffer.
There may sometimes be legitimate reasons for service interruptions. But some businesses believe that their landlords are creating problems to pressure them to abandon their shops and their leases. If this is true, it's a shame and we have to do something about it.
Besides interruption of services, there's an imbalance of power around lease agreements. The law assumes that landlords and small business tenants have equal bargaining power. But in reality, few mom & pops have a lawyer's help reviewing leases and other contracts. They don't know how to fight back when landlords demand outrageous under-the table payments to enter into a lease. They don't know who to turn to after they borrow money to make payments, and the landlord still refuses to turn over the lease, leaving them unable to connect utilities.
For these struggling small businesses, walking away is not an answer. They're fighting to stay. They want to keep paying fair rent, providing jobs and making a living. And we shouldn't allow unfairness on the part of landlords to make that impossible.
I'm here to tell these small business owners, pursuing their dreams in corner stores and on commercial strips across the boroughs, "YOU ARE NOT ALONE." I'm a preacher's kid, and one thing I always heard in church was, "What's done in the darkness will be brought to light." It's time to shine some light on the real estate struggles of NYC's small business tenants.
I'm appealing to New York's small business owners to share your stories with me. If you're a business owner who's being taken advantage of, or harassed by a landlord, tell me about it. If you're a New Yorker who knows that the local store you love is being taken advantage of & may be forced out, I want to hear from you.
I have some ideas about how to help businesses and I'm exploring others. But I know I don't have all the answers. Some business assistance providers and my fellow elected officials have focused on these issues before and I plan to learn all I can from them. But I also want to hear form the public. So, please, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my district office, 718.919.0740 and share your stories.
In return, I pledge to continue working on solutions to give the small businesses we rely on the support they need.