Fight The Real-Estate Power
Be our guest By Ray Rogers:
The Real Estate Board of New York — the membership organization that represents the people who own, manage, build, buy and sell property in this city — has ramped up its propaganda to thwart passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is scheduled for a hearing before the City Council today.
To undermine the bill, and to confuse legislators and the public, REBNY President John Banks is describing the measure as a rent-control bill. It’s a scare tactic, because rent control is only legal when there’s a declared economic emergency.
This bill would not impose commercial rent-control — nothing of the kind. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer confirmed that at last month’s Stuyvesant Town Tenants Association meeting.
But Banks and his allies keep pitching this talking point to drum up support to kill or water down the proposed legislation.
As a small-business owner myself and advocate for economic fairness, I’m tired of the disinformation. I want to be clear about what the bill would do: It would simply, but critically, provide basic rights for small business owners when it comes time to renew their leases.
It would guarantee us, whether they are storefronts on the ground floor or professional offices on the 20th floor, the ability to renew leases for a minimum of 10 years. It would give us the right to mediation and binding arbitration if we can’t reach an amenable deal with landlords. And it would end landlords’ ability to inflate rent through inflated or made-up costs they cannot justify.
The legislation would also end the all-too-common practice of extorting tens of thousands of dollars from small business owners, especially immigrants, just to secure a lease.
Right now, commercial tenants are completely at the mercy of landlords who unjustly rule the roost.
We must take bold action to stem a dangerous tide. According to a survey by brokerage firm Douglas Elliman, 7% of mom-and-pop stores in Manhattan were vacant in 2016; that figure is now 20%. Brewer’s office conducted a study in 2017 that found 188 empty stores along Broadway.
Whether you visit Greenwich Village, East Harlem, Inwood Heights or communities in any of the other boroughs, the story remains the same. Small businesses — from boutiques and restaurants to accountants, medical offices and manufacturing facilities — are being price-gouged out of existence when it comes time to renew their leases.
Peter Moskowitz, in his 2017 book “How To Kill A City: Gentrification, Inequality and The Fight for The Neighborhood,” describes Seventh Ave. in New York City: “Down the block was a good vegetarian Chinese restaurant that recently closed when its rent was raised from $5,000 to $25,000 a month.”
I fled my office rent in Dumbo in 2015 when my new lease suddenly demanded a doubling of my rent. Unscrupulous property speculators and landlords and those bankrolling them have targeted small businesses as irrelevant, expendable and an impediment to maximizing profits.
If you consider the larger picture of what is at stake for our city’s economy, and the health and vitality of society at large, you will understand why REBNY and many of the landlords it represents are so terrified of this bill, and why the city’s most powerful lobby has prevented a vote on it ever since Ruth Messinger first introduced it in June 1986.
Making this legislation the law of New York City will mean the transfer of billions of dollars in money, and the power that goes with it, from super-wealthy property speculators, developers and landlords to small businesses, their employees and the local economy.
Entrenched power is afraid of that possibility. The rest of us should welcome it.
Rogers is director and owner of NYC-based Corporate Campaign, Inc.