City takes aim at landlords’ empty retail space

New measure requires vacancies to be reported twice a year

Gale Brewer, Vacancy
Gale Brewer (Getty, Gale Brewer)

The City Council on Thursday passed a bill to ramp up reporting requirements for vacant retail space.

The measure, sponsored by Manhattan Council member Gale Brewer, builds on a 2019 law that established a public database of commercial properties in New York City. As part of that law, commercial building owners must report vacant ground- and second-floor retail space once a year.

The bill approved Thursday requires still more information. If a space is vacant on June 30, the owner must report the vacancy by August 15; if it’s empty Dec. 31, the reporting deadline is Feb. 15. The owner also needs to disclose when the last lease expired.

“This will provide more data to observe patterns and trends to make better decisions,” Brewer said in a statement.

Whether those decisions might include a vacancy tax or commercial rent control, as Council members have floated over the years as a way to prod landlords to minimize retail cavities, remains to be seen.

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Those efforts have failed to move forward, but the reporting requirements have generated less outcry from real estate interests.

The commercial database was intended to track vacancies and gauge the health of the city’s retail corridors. This year The Real Deal reported that it has fallen short of what lawmakers envisioned: The database is incomplete and much of its information is outdated.

In a statement, the Real Estate Board of New York said it “supports the gathering of more accurate and timely data around the retail market to help support sound policy making.”

The industry group had voiced concern over the deadlines for supplementary filings in an earlier version of the bill. The measure also does not take into account whether an empty space is being built out for a new tenant.

The City Council also passed a measure Thursday to create a “One-Stop Shop NYC Business Portal,” where all applications, permits, licenses and other information needed for opening a small business is available.