Bedford-Stuyvesant

Cornegy bill protects stores from landlord harassment

June 23, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. says the city needs to make sure landlords aren’t taking advantage of mom and pop store owners. Photo courtesy of Cornegy’s office

Landlords of commercial buildings would face huge penalties for bullying storeowner tenants into paying exorbitant rents under a bill the City Council passed on Tuesday.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bed-Stuy-Crown Heights) sponsored the legislation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign into law.

The bill seeks to amend the administrative code of New York City to curtail what Cornegy said is the harassment of small businesses and other non-residential tenants by greedy landlords looking to make a fast buck.

Current laws protect residential tenants from landlord harassment. But until Cornegy’s bill, there was no similar protection in place for commercial tenants.

“Small businesses in this city are hurting. With real estate prices increasing and neighborhoods in all five boroughs rapidly gentrifying, too many landlords are raising commercial rents to levels that make it impossible for their tenants to stay in business,” Cornegy said in a statement shortly after the bill passed.

“Pizza parlors, bodegas, restaurants, retail stores, artists and others are constantly being told they have to pay sky-high rents to maintain occupancy. Sometimes landlords try to extort higher rents by harassing their tenants until they pay up or move out,” Cornegy charged.

Cornegy is the chairman of the council’s Small Business Committee.

The legislation would allow commercial tenants to bring a cause of action in court with a civil penalty set between $1,000 and $10,000. The penalty will be in addition to any equitable, injunctive, compensatory and punitive damages that are found by the court.

The types of harassment covered under the bill would include threats of force, causing repeated interruptions or discontinuances of essential services like gas and electricity, interrupting or discontinuing of an essential service for an extended period of time, and repeatedly commencing frivolous court proceedings against a commercial tenant.

Cornegy said he hopes that “the threat of such penalties, in addition to the possibility of liability for compensatory and punitive damages, will serve as a significant deterrent against the unscrupulous practices that currently exist in commercial leasing.”

In a 2015 interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, Cornegy talked about his role as chairman of the Small Business Committee and said the city should be doing all it can to assist small businesses.

Helping small businesses helps the city, according to Cornegy, who said that if a business does well, it increases the city’s revenue and decreases unemployment. “I’d like a small business to go from eight workers to 15 workers. The economy will not be righted through big businesses,” he told the Eagle.