A bill to be introduced this week by Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine will aim to provide free legal assistance to small businesses facing eviction.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Levine said the bill will be patterned after the Right to Counsel bill, which provides legal aid to residential tenants facing eviction.
Levine said the proposed bill is “transformational” in the interview. He shared statistics showing that while residential evictions dropped 14% between 2017 and 2018, commercial evictions increased.
“The city averaged 153 commercial evictions a month last year, up from 143 in 2017,” reported Crain’s New York Business. “The advice of a lawyer might have been able to keep some of those tenants in business, Levine said. Many small-business owners may not have been able to afford to retain one. The goal, he told the Journal, is to “level the playing field to replicate the success for commercial tenants.”
Under the proposal, assistance would be tendered to independently owned and operated businesses, and those owners whose household income is under 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
An attorney would work for the tenant in housing and other courts, including appearances to seek possession for not paying rent, the Wall Street Journal pointed out.
John Banks, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a prepared statement that his organization would support trying to help small businesses in New York. “While we are reviewing the legislation, ensuring that small business tenants have access to legal representation is a laudable goal,” he wrote.
Evy Viruet, the economic development organizer with the grass-roots organization Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, told the Journal that “the small businesses she works with could benefit from the bill. Last year, her organization helped Jenny Vangelatos, who has owned the New Capitol Restaurant in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx for 26 years, get an eviction case dismissed. She said many of the small businesses in that neighborhood face various legal issues and don’t often have access to legal help. “We need someone to stand right next to that commercial tenant, in front of a judge, and hear their case,” Ms. Viruet said.”
It was a year ago that Mayor de Blasio announced the launch of a new program to help small business owners with issues related to a business lease. The Commercial Lease Assistance Program, offered by the NYC Department of Small Business Services, was designed to allow small business owners to obtain free legal assistance on topics that include negotiating a lease, resolving landlord issues, responding to an eviction notice, breach of contract disputes, and lease renewal. Non-franchise businesses that meet income requirements were eligible for this service.
“Small businesses are the economic heart and soul of this city and they deserve every opportunity to succeed,” said de Blasio in unveiling the program. “The Commercial Lease Assistance Program will give small business owners the help they need to resolve legal issues without driving them out of business.”