Queen lawmaker introduces bill protecting small businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

Astoria business owner Kambri Crews speaks during a recent rally hosted by state Senator Michael Gianaris promoting small business protections during COVID. (Courtesy of Gianaris' office)

As small businesses across Queens and New York state continue to be impacted during the COVID-19 economic crisis, state Senator Michael Gianaris announced new legislation aimed at protecting commercial tenants.

The measure would protect small business owners from having personal liability provisions in leases invoked if they were forced to close during the coronavirus emergency.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and have suffered tremendously during the pandemic,” Gianaris said. “We must do what we can to keep these neighborhood institutions alive while we fight for federal and state relief these businesses deserve.”

Leases with personal liability provisions hold business owners personally liable when they are not able to pay rent, and are common for many small businesses that were shuttered due to government mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gianaris drafted the legislation after working with Kambri Crews, the owner and operator of Q.E.D Astoria, a comedy and entertainment venue, who holds this type of lease,

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to small businesses and the communities they serve, but we’re in the home stretch,” Crews said. “Personal liability protections will grant small business owners the confidence to focus on rebuilding businesses and communities without fear of utter financial ruination looking over them. If personal liabilities aren’t protected then many business owners, myself included, will have to close their doors to protect themselves and their families. This protection will keep business owners invested in their communities without the worry of personal financial devastation due to events entirely beyond their control.”

Similar provisions are already in place in New York City after Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera authored its personal liability suspension law.

“Small business owners put their heart and soul into their enterprises and our community depends on them,” Rivera said. “No one should fear a landlord going after their personal savings during this pandemic. I was proud to enact a law like this on the city level, and I am pleased to support Senator Gianaris as he leads this effort statewide.”

Meanwhile, Gianaris announced the state Senate passed his legislation mandating a consumer advocate have a voting seat on the New York State Public Service Commission.

“Too often the Public Service Commission serves the industries it regulates rather than the public,” Gianaris said. “A voice for consumers on the PSC would be a powerful step to move things in the right direction. I am glad the Senate passed my bill to require exactly that.”

The PSC is comprised of five members. The board regulates telecommunications, electricity, steam, natural gas, and water service delivery. Gianaris has been active on PSC reform, authoring other measures including requiring specific qualifications for Commission members.

“New York’s consumers need regulators who represent their interests, not their utility companies,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who sponsors the bill in the lower chamber, said. “This legislation will ensure there’s a vote for ratepayers at the table. I thank Senator Gianaris for passing this legislation in the Senate as we will work together to deliver for New York’s consumers.”

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