Council Members Call for City-Funded Lawyers to Protect Small Businesses from Eviction

*RELEASE* March 12, 2019
Contact: Jake Sporn, 516-946-5253 // jsporn@council.nyc.gov

City Hall, NY -- Today, Council Members Mark Levine, Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, Helen Rosenthal and Diana Ayala announced they would be introducing legislation this week to protect small businesses in New York City by guaranteeing them an attorney in eviction proceedings.

Over the past several years the number of commercial evictions in NYC has steadily risen, according to data from the City Marshal’s office. Between 2017 and 2018 alone commercial evictions climbed from 1,720 to 1,841. Though the first two months of 2019, there have already been 349 commercial evictions.

The staggering commercial eviction rates are fueling the city’s retail vacancy crisis. According to a 2018 survey by real-estate firm Douglas Elliman, approximately 20% of all retail space in Manhattan was vacant or about to become vacant, well above the 5% vacancy rate economists say is healthy.

This has also driven the number of retail workers in Manhattan to plummet for three straight years by more than 10,000, losing more jobs since 2014, during a period of strong and steady economic growth, than during the Great Recession.

The new legislation is modeled after a Council Member Levine’s tenants Right to Counsel legislation that guarantees legal aid to residential tenants facing eviction. Since 2013 as the number of tenants with legal representation has more than doubled, the number of evictions in NYC has fallen by 37%.

“Our neighborhoods are hemorrhaging mom and pop stores at an increasingly alarming rate,” said Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of the new bill. “These stores are the fabric and soul of our communities. With the rate of small business evictions rising for the third year in a row, we need to address this issue before the storefront vacancy crisis gets any worse. We’ve seen what happens when we give residential tenants an attorney in an eviction proceeding--they win. It’s time to extend that right to struggling small business owners. No merchant should have to face a legal battle with their landlord without the benefit of an attorney.”

“For years our neighborhoods have continued to struggle with staggering small business eviction rates as rents climb ever higher. But this bill will ensure that owners have a fighting chance in these proceedings with representation guaranteed by the City of New York. If we are going to end the crisis of vacant storefronts, we need to give our friends in the small business community the tools they need to survive, and I encourage my fellow Council Members to support this important legislation,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

Said Council Member Keith Powers, “Right to Counsel is a landmark law that demonstrates New York City’s commitment to supporting tenants – a commitment that we should extend to our small businesses. With this new legislation, small businesses that are under threat throughout the city will have the resources to fight eviction. I commend Council Member Levine for his continued work to provide legal aid for those in need.”

“Small businesses helped to build New York City, and they continue to play a critical role in providing goods and services, and employment. On the Upper West Side, we have seen a number of small businesses close, and our community has really felt this loss. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of Council Member Levine’s legislation guaranteeing commercial tenants an attorney in eviction proceedings. At the very least it offers commercial tenants a fighting chance to continue their lease arrangements, and for businesses to stay in their local communities,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

"I am proud to join my colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation that will guarantee legal representation for small businesses facing eviction. Small businesses contribute to our city's vibrancy, diversity, and economic growth — and they must be equipped with the resources necessary to fight the shady tactics that are driving commercial evictions," said Council Member Diana Ayala.

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