Sunnyside councilman, small business owners rally for commercial rent control

JVB speaks with constituent about closing neighborhood stores, CHHAYA looks on
File photo courtesy of Councilman Van Bramer’s office

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer gathered with small business owners and advocates in support of a commercial rent control bill on Dec. 15 in front of the recently closed Dave’s Bagels in Sunnyside.

Van Bramer is one of the 10 sponsors of Councilman Stephen Levin’s bill to create a Commercial Rent Guidelines Board that would regulate commercial rents just like the Rent Guidelines Board does for apartment rents. Other Queens sponsors include councilmen Antonio Reynoso and Daniel Dromm.

“Saving and protecting small businesses is among the most important things we can do for our community,” said Van Bramer. “We must empower small business because they are the life-blood of our community. Even when small businesses are successful, it appears they are punished for bringing business to their store in the form of increased rent.”

The legislation would create a system of commercial rent control for retail spaces at or less than 10,000 square feet, manufacturing spaces at or less than 25,000 square feet, and professional services or other office spaces of 10,000 square feet. The mayor would appoint a seven-member board, which would determine rent increases by factoring in commercial real estate taxes, sewer and water rates, and gross operating and maintenance costs.

According to a City Comptroller report, vacant commercial space rose by nearly 50 percent — up to 11.8 million square feet — between 2007 and 2017. 

Shrima Pandey, the small business program manager at Chhaya CDC, said that 2019 had been a year of victories for land use land use battles and residential rent reform, but the business community must be proactive.

“We need a citywide intervention to combat displacement, and commercial rent stabilization is an important piece of that. So let’s make a 2020 resolution – let’s make it the year we put small businesses first, the year we pass commercial rent stabilization,” Pandey said.

Local business owners added their concerns about high rent increases. “This situation is tough,” said Paul Longo who owns and operates two businesses in Sunnyside. “You are an integral part to help build a neighborhood only to be forced out with a 100 percent rent increase.”