The Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which had been languishing in the City Council for 30 years up until a recent organized push helped get 27 Council members to indicate their support for it, has been blasted by critics as being unconstitutional. What’s interesting though is that no one, not even its stiffest opponents, are giving any reasons why this is the case.
We won’t pretend to be legal experts but what we know is this. Owners of small businesses in this city are in desperate need of some bargaining power because right now they have none. At any time, any business that is doing well and meeting the needs of the community it serves could still disappear overnight, whether it’s due to an obscenely high rent hike or a refusal from a speculative landlord to even offer a renewal at any price.
We appreciate the effort being made by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on a bill that would at least force property owners to negotiate in good faith with a tenant. However, with the only sure thing in that scenario being a one-year lease extension for a business at a 15 percent rent hike, it just won’t be enough to stem the tide of mom-and-pops being forced out by chains and banks.
The SBJSA, however, if passed, would give an existing tenant another 10 years. This would actually make a huge dent in bringing back the stability the city’s retail landscape hasn’t known in many years.
We don’t blame landlords for being wary in a business atmosphere that suggests a more well-heeled commercial tenant is always around the corner. But the fact is that the bigger picture ― that entire neighborhoods are shedding their retail diversity to the point of losing their unique character ― is being ignored. Even worse, the plan will sometimes backfire as retail spaces remain vacant for over a year or longer. This gives the appearance of urban blight, as an owner waits for that perfect tenant to come along and pay double what the last tenant did.
The SBJSA isn’t perfect. The legislation applies to all commercial leases, which means big businesses, like banks and corporate offices, would be able to reap the same rewards intended for the little guy. But right now there just doesn’t seem to be anything else out there, legislatively, that would have such a far-reaching impact or anything close to it.
So, before any more time, and incidentally businesses, are lost, members of the City Council and of course the mayor need to get behind this. Otherwise, they may as well sit back with their feet up as the city continues its transformation into a strip mall.