Landlords need govt assistance: REBNY

Trade group proposes measures to jumpstart economy

Governor Andrew Cuomo and REBNY president James Whelan (Credit: Getty Images)
Governor Andrew Cuomo and REBNY president James Whelan (Credit: Getty Images) 

New York’s top real estate lobbying group joined business advocates from across the city Monday to call for more relief for businesses and for households struggling to pay rent and mortgages.

In a letter to New York elected officials, the Real Estate Board of New York and chambers of commerce from each of the boroughs asked the government to provide a “backstop” during the coronavirus emergency.

Writing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York’s congressional delegation and both houses of the state legislature, the groups requested that they “resuscitate ailing businesses and revamp the economy” by expanding assistance to businesses beyond what’s in the federal stimulus package.

The business groups urged Washington to amend the Paycheck Protection Program — which leaves out apartment building owners — by extending the period of time to apply for benefits and raising the amount that can be applied to rent. They also suggested the city investigate the financial implications of returning sales tax to businesses in the form of direct grants.

The plan also called for the government to provide additional relief for businesses unable to pay their rent and property owners who can’t pay their mortgages because the pandemic has shut down much of the economy. Relief could take the form of direct federal financial assistance or rent and mortgage forbearance, the letter says.

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The option to postpone payments has already been provided for multifamily mortgages that are federally backed, and for single-family homes in New York, but not for other multifamily mortgages.

“The majority of businesses in New York City have been mandated by the government to close (or limit their operations) and many therefore cannot pay their rent,” the letter states. “Property owners have financial obligations including property taxes, mortgages, maintenance, and capital improvements — much of which is paid for by the rent from businesses.”

While the letter highlights the importance of landlords’ ability to pay property taxes — projected to provide nearly $30 billion to New York City in 2020, or about a third of overall revenue — it also suggests they be reduced for landlords who grant rent concessions.

Although the majority of its members are residential real estate agents, REBNY represents the most prominent commercial landlords and developers in New York City. The group, founded in 1896, lobbies on behalf of property owners and wields significant power over state and city politics.

REBNY is not, however, always in lockstep with other real estate trade associations, and was burned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year when he allowed a package of tenant-friendly rent reforms to be pushed through.