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Small Businesses Should Be Protected From Landlords, Politician Says

 Councilman Robert Cornegy called for support Wednesday to protect small businesses against landlord harassment.
Councilman Robert Cornegy called for support Wednesday to protect small businesses against landlord harassment.
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Councilmember Robert Cornegy's Office/Brian Cunningham

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Small businesses harassed by landlords through rising rents and dishonest practices need more protection from the city, Councilman Robert Cornegy said this week.

Cornegy, chairman of the City Council’s Small Business Committee, called for legislation to hold landlords accountable.

“Small business tenants believe that some landlords are actually creating condition problems to pressure them to give up the spaces they’ve invested in, even when they still have a lease,” the councilman said in a statement.

"If this is true, it's a shame and we have to do something about it.

"I’m a preacher’s kid and one thing I always heard in church was ‘What’s done in the darkness will be brought to the light.’ It’s time to shine some light on the real estate struggles of NYC’s small business tenants.”

Cornegy recently introduced a resolution to establish a property tax credit for commercial landlords who voluntarily limit rent increases to small business owners upon their lease renewal.

He also asked for a bill to extend residential tenant anti-harassment protections to commercial tenants. 

Bed-Stuy business owners commended Cornegy on his efforts to assist locally owned spots, citing their own gripes and experiences with landlords.

Edmon Braithwaite, who has headed Nostrand Wines and Liquors for the past 10 years, said he has gone back and forth with the building’s owner for the past year over disruptive construction affecting his shop.

Renovation work on the second floor of 551 Nostrand Ave. caused debris to crash down in the store’s main area, forcing Braithwaite to close off a section to customers for three months, he said.

The landlord was unresponsive, he added, and electrical wiring and beams still remain exposed in some sections of the store.

“It was a total disaster,” Braithwaite said. “There has to be some degree of protection. I applaud the councilmember for doing this because it’s long overdue, because many businesses, especially minority business owners, have to deal with unscrupulous landlords.”

The building’s owner, who identified himself as Mike, said he had “no idea” about the issues mentioned.

Tai Walker, owner of Smokey Island Grille two blocks away, voiced similar dissatisfaction with his landlords, saying they were “nonresponsive” and “had no accountability.”

The owners of 1274 Fulton St. took Walker to court in 2013 for issues of nonpayment as he prepared to open his restaurant, according to court records.

While the landlords won the case, Walker said he initially withheld rent because the owners had not disclosed conditions at the property that led to additional work and a delay in the business’ opening.

The landlords could not be immediately reached for comment.

“Political powers need to step in and say to landlords: you might own the building but we control what’s going on in the community,” Walker said. “They need to start being held accountable to some form of criteria.

“They can’t be the only ones who survive and railroad people to put them out of business.”

Cornegy is encouraging small business owners experiencing instances of harassment to reach out to his office via email at cornegysmallbiz@gmail.com or phone at 718-919-0740.