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Landlords Who Harass Commercial Tenants Would Be Penalized Under New Bill

 Councilman Robert Cornegy is co-sponsoring a bill that would penalize landlords for commercial tenant harassment.
Councilman Robert Cornegy is co-sponsoring a bill that would penalize landlords for commercial tenant harassment.
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Councilmember Robert Cornegy's Office/Brian Cunningham

BROOKLYN — Landlords could face penalties for commercial tenant harassment under a new bill introduced to the City Council on Thursday.

The legislation would allow tenants to recover possession of property, attorney fees and damages amounting to one month’s rent or $1,000 from the landlord, among other costs.

Councilmembers Robert Cornegy and Mark Levine are sponsoring the bill.

Cornegy, chairman of the City Council’s Small Business Committee, has previously called for laws to protect small business tenants from landlord harassment such as rising rents and dishonest practices.

The new legislation details non-residential tenant harassment to include threats, unnecessary construction or repairs on the property that interferes with business, interruptions to essential services, and “repeatedly commencing frivolous court proceedings” against a tenant.

"We’ve heard stories of landlords interrupting elevator service so customers can’t reach a second floor business," Cornegy said during remarks on the City Council floor Thursday.

"One bold landlord intentionally damaged the roof, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to a small business’ equipment and merchandise."

Both Cornegy and Levine also sponsored a bill recently signed into law that would create small business advocates to serve local entrepreneurs. 

Critics of the legislation introduced Thursday say it's no real solution to the plight faced by mom-and-pop shops being pushed out of their longtime locations.

Members of Take Back NYC, a political lobbying organization representing a coalition of small business owners, residents and advocacy groups, instead point to the Small Business Jobs Survival Act as the answer.

“This type of legislation being proposed by Councilmember Cornegy is yet another poorly thought out tactic that doesn't stop the closings, with no real purpose or intent but to stall the passing of SBJSA,” said Kirsten Theodos, lead advocate of Take Back NYC.

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act, introduced by Councilwoman Annabel Palma in June 2014, looks to give small businesses rights in the commercial lease renewal process and create a “fair negotiating environment” between landlord and tenant.

“What do you think is going to happen when they sit down at the lease renewal table if the landlord is fined?” Theodos said, referring to Cornegy and Levine's proposal. “It cultivates an environment of retaliation.”

This week's suggested bill would create a new cause of action, Cornegy said, empowering business tenants to sue for damages and creating an incentive for attorneys to take on such cases. 

“Businesses don’t only encounter problems when their leases expire," he said. "Mom and pops with ongoing leases are being harassed and they’ve reached out to me to ask for help."

"The approach Intro. 851 takes has been effective in protecting residential tenants. It’s high time that small businesses got the same support.”