By Sabina Mollot
The Small Business Congress, which has been pushing hard for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, is on the offensive, preparing for possible mutations of the bill in the City Council that the SBC fears would render it useless.
Steve Barrison, an attorney and the executive vice president of the SBC, is saying despite new Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s assertions that he wants to see the long-blocked legislation get a hearing, the Devil will be in the details of what Barrison expects will become “a REBNY bill.”
In an email earlier this week, the Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim stated that he is seeking exactly 26 volunteers to convince the Council members who do not support the bill to change their minds.
It may not be easy, though, since technically the SBJSA is dead, Barrison said. This is because the prime sponsor had been Annabel Palma of the Bronx who was term-limited on December 31, 2017.
“It’s got to be reintroduced,” said Barrison and its future sponsor has yet to be found. Kim has also called on Johnson to allow the SBC to select the new sponsor, which he said was done in the past.
Meanwhile, the City Council’s new Small Business Committee Chair Mark Gjonaj hasn’t said he supports it. (Former Chair Robert Cornegy didn’t either nor has the mayor.) The Real Estate Board of New York has blasted the bill as being unconstitutional.
“We know how this game is played,” said Barrison. “They always say they’ll hold a hearing. Then they’ll kill it. Then they’ll squash it. People who don’t know the language (of the bill) will say, ‘Oh look what they’re saying’ (in support of it), but it’s the same dog and pony show. When you have a crisis you act. You don’t delay, delay, delay. It doesn’t have legal issues. That’s a lie. We’ve had a judge panel. We’ve had experts from law schools review it.”
Barrison said the bill was close to coming to a vote in 2009 when it was suddenly tabled by then-Speaker Christine Quinn.
Now, he’s concerned the bill could be weakened so that only storefront tenants would be protected or the lease renewal period reduced. Currently the bill, which has been around in some form for roughly 30 years, requires tenants and landlords to go through arbitration if they can’t reach a deal for lease renewal on their own, ideally with tenants getting a 10-year renewal. It also applies to all commercial tenants.
Full disclosure: Town & Village has endorsed this legislation since it seems to be the only bill with enough teeth to collectively combat the problems of warehousing, high rent blight and homogenization of neighborhoods as mom and pops get pushed out in favor of banks.
According to Barrison, 1,100-1,200 businesses shutter each month in New York City, while only 10-15 percent of commercial tenants who have problems with their landlords can afford to take them to court. “When their lease is up they close up and they go.”
Rent gouging is common come lease time, as is asking for key money at small storefronts, he added. “Real estate people in New York hold out their properties for the highest bidder and they don’t care how long they’re empty.”
A spokesperson for Johnson through the City Council and a spokesperson for Gjonaj didn’t get back to us by press time.
Update: Reginald Johnson, a spokesperson for Gjonaj, issued the following statement:
“As chair of the small business committee, Councilman Gjonaj is committed to addressing the needs of New York business owners. And while he applauds the aim of SBJSA, in its current form, he does not believe that it will be the best vehicle to provide long-term relief to businesses struggling with rising costs, overly burdensome government regulations and unfair competition from corporate chains and internet retailers.”