Can we encourage merchants to share the challenges they face as commercial tenants in a rapidly changing neighborhood? Small businesses experience similar matters like lease negotiation, rent increases, relationship to their landlord, relationship to other commercial tenants in the Nostrand Avenue commercial corridor and in some cases landlord harassment. I strongly believe in the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Associations vision for a strong network of merchant relationships. I admire the hard work of commercial tenants conducting business on Nostrand Avenue as they are the anchors of the Crown Heights community.
Residential, not commercial, tenant protections were highlighted in the news cycle over the summer thanks to New York State's approval of a package of rent laws designed to give strong new protections to NYC renters. Brooklyn residential tenants facing housing discrimination have several resources and services provided through the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President and Public Advocate of the City of New York. What about commercial tenants though? I was discouraged by the lack of resources provided by city agencies for commercial business tenants and had trouble finding access to additional information. After several phone calls to city agencies, organizations and nonprofits, I am going to highlight resources currently available to commercial tenants and small businesses.
It is important to first understand the different issues commercial tenants face. Only one law currently exists that explicitly provides commercial tenants legal protection from harassment (The Non-Residential Tenant Harassment Law of 2016) and no rent caps currently exist for commercial tenants. Harassment experiences can vary, but commercial tenants may experience actions taken by their landlord to deny services consistent to a lease agreement. Actions may include limiting access to utilities, heat or storage. Fear of losing a lease, or being denied the opportunity to renew a lease may also be a concern for commercial tenants. The term or duration of a lease provides safety and security, especially for a small business operating in a neighborhood experiencing rising real estate speculation.
It is vital to support organizations that are working to provide government resources for small businesses in the city. Brooklyn A Legal and the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development is working to increase small business resources that provide legal and lease assistance. These organizations share the goal of clearly defining forms of harassment faced by small businesses, expand regulations of the commercial rental market, coordinate across city and state agencies to reduce red tape and offer relevant services across agencies. Brooklyn A’s flagship venture, the Commercial Lease Assistance Program provides high-quality, free, dedicated legal counsel to small business owners on matters related to commercial leasing. Eligible businesses should stay informed at Brooklyn A (bka.org) and the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (anhd.org).
A version of this article appeared in the September issue of the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Association newsletter.