Commercial tenant protections get extension from de Blasio

Personal assets remain off-limits to landlords

Corey Johnson, Andrew Rigie and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty)
Corey Johnson, Andrew Rigie and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty)

“Today is about justice for hard-working New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a bill-signing ceremony Monday.

Commercial landlords might beg to differ.

One of the measures de Blasio signed into law essentially rewrites contracts many of them have with small businesses. The measure extends a ban on landlords even threatening to enforce personal-liability clauses designed to encourage business owners to pay rent.

The law, sponsored by Manhattan Democrat Carlina Rivera and originally enacted in May retroactive to March 7, was set to expire Wednesday. The extension carries it through March 2021, unless a legal challenge wipes it off the books.

Six of the Council’s 51 members voted against the first bill, citing the government’s interference in private contracts. At the time, the Real Estate Board of New York testified that the bill called for a “seemingly impermissible unilateral amendment of existing valid contracts.”

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Still, commercial landlords have their own bills to pay, and to date, the City Council has not passed any special rules for them. The chamber lacks the power to waive landlords’ mortgage obligations. Some members did introduce a bill to award a property tax break to landlords who give commercial tenants a break, but the mayor has not promoted it and it has not passed.

The bill does not cover every tenant. It applies to restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, retailers subject to in-person restrictions, barbershops, hair salons and tattoo and piercing parlors.

“We were able to ensure that business owners, should they be forced to walk away or temporarily shutter their stores through no fault of their own, could do so without facing threats to their life savings,” Rivera said in a statement. She noted that she had heard many tales of woe from small-business owners, but did not mention getting any from landlords.

Another bill signed by the mayor Monday expands paid leave to employees of small businesses with four or fewer employees and net income of more than $1 million, in line with state law. It also compels businesses with 100 or more employees to provide up to 56 hours of paid sick leave.

De Blasio also signed a measure forcing new owners of hotels to keep paying wages and providing benefits to the hotel employees for 90 days — even if the hotel is closed. Hotel owners believe that will make it harder for struggling establishments to find buyers and could lead to some shutting down.

In a statement, its sponsor, Manhattan Democrat Mark Levine, did not address that issue, but said: “When tourists eventually return to our city … it is only fair that hotel workers have a path back to their jobs.”