Council Approves COVID-19 Relief Bills

Council Approves COVID-19 Relief Bills

Photo Courtesy of John McCarten/NY City Council

“COVID-19 exposed many weaknesses and inequities in our society and at this critical time the New York City Council must think about those on whom this pandemic will fall most heavily,” Councilwoman Adams said.

By Michael V. Cusenza

The City Council on Wednesday voted to approve several COVID-19 relief bills at its virtual Stated Meeting.

According to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the package is designed to help small businesses survive the fiscal impacts of the loss of business and limited food service due to efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

Highlights include:

Introduction No. 1916-A requires that the City waive and/or refund all revocable consent fees for unenclosed sidewalk cafes due between March 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021. Enclosed sidewalk café consent fees would be waived for the duration of the Mayor’s Emergency Executive Order No. 105 published on April 4, 2020.

“With so many restaurants, bars, and other establishments in the hospitality industry ordered to close, New York’s small businesses are in urgent need of the City’s help. These businesses have always been the lifeblood of our City and they will play a central role in the City’s recovery. This legislation is an important first step towards a safe reopening of NYC’s restaurants with sidewalk cafes prominently figuring into a recovery strategy to support socially distanced dining and expanded seating capacity. Eliminating burdensome sidewalk cafe fees will provide emergency relief to restaurants confronting huge revenue losses and unprecedented financial challenges so that they’ll have the opportunity to reopen and thrive in the future,” said Councilman Andrew Cohen (D-Bronx), the measure’s sponsor.

Introduction No. 1914-A makes threatening a commercial tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted business or person a form of harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000. This bill would not impact a tenant’s obligation to pay rent or a landlord’s ability to enforce the terms of the lease, including lawful termination.

“COVID-19 exposed many weaknesses and inequities in our society and at this critical time the New York City Council must think about those on whom this pandemic will fall most heavily,” said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), who co-sponsored the bill along with Johnson. “Our small businesses, including those impacted by COVID-19, are the backbone of New York City’s economy and the embodiment of the American dream. These small businesses are struggling right now, and we must strengthen protections against commercial tenant harassment so that they will have the opportunity to thrive in the future.”

And Introduction No. 1932-A suspends personal liability provisions for certain businesses. These provisions, which are common in small-business leases, allow a landlord to hold a business owner personally liable if they are unable to pay rent. To avoid the seizure of an owner’s personal assets or property, they must turn in the keys to the property, effectively ending their lease.

The bill would suspend these provisions for businesses that were impacted by mandated closures or service limitations, including: (1) businesses that were required to stop serving food or beverages on-premises (restaurants and bars); (2) businesses that were required to cease operations altogether (gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters); (3) retail businesses that were required to close and/or subject to in-person restrictions; and (4) businesses that were required to close to the public (barbershops, hair salons, tattoo or piercing parlors, and related personal care services).


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