City Council passes small business relief bills
by Benjamin Fang
May 20, 2020 | 1592 views | 0 0 comments | 134 134 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Relief is on the way for small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Wednesday, the City Council approved a package of five bills intended to lessen the economic burdens on restaurants and other commercial tenants.

The first bill, sponsored by Councilman Francisco Moya, caps the amount of commission a third-party delivery company is allowed to charge to 15 percent per order for delivery and 5 percent per order for all other types of charges.

Violating the restrictions in the legislation carries a civil penalty of $1,000 per restaurant per day. If signed, the bill would remain in effect for the duration of any state of emergency and an additional 90 days after.

“We have to stand up against these companies that have been fleecing our small mom-and-pop restaurants for so long,” Moya said.

Restaurateur Melba Wilson said she’s excited about the legislation because delivery fees as high as 35 percent were “killing” her businesses.

“When I look at the fact that they’re capped at 15 percent now, that will allow me to not just feed my community,” Wilson said, “but to also hopefully bring back some of my employees.”

The second piece of legislation prevents third-party delivery platforms from charging restaurants for telephone orders that did not result in a transaction. The bill would also remain in effect for the duration of a state of emergency.

The other bills in the package include suspending sidewalk cafe fees during the pandemic, making harassment against commercial tenants punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000, and temporarily suspending personal liability provisions in leases of COVID-19 impacted businesses.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who sponsored the last bill, said she’s heard from many businesses in her district that landlords are going after their life savings and personal assets.

“We want to make sure we can take care of our families,” she said.

One restaurant owner who has faced that situation is Gabriel Stulman, CEO of Happy Cooking Hospitality, whose landlord has already sent a letter asking for a rent increase on June 1. During the pandemic, Stulman said he doesn’t want his landlord to be able to threaten his personal life.

“I’ve got a home and two kids,” he said. “Don’t let me live with an added fear that I might also lose my personal bank account.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit trade association representing restaurant and nightlife industries, said these industries have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

“This will give our small business owners the types of relief they need during these trying times,” he said.

In addition to providing relief through legislation, Rigie said something else the city can do is reimagine the use of public spaces, including streets, pedestrian plazas, parks and sidewalks.

He said the city should figure out how to allow restaurants to set up and serve food outside.

“We will have to allow them to get some of those additional sales on the street,” he said. “I also think the dining public may be comfortable eating in open air spaces.

“We’ve seen cities around the globe do that,” he added. “New York City should be a leader in that.”
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