By Patrick Hedlund
Retail rent control?
A city councilmember planned to introduce a bill this week that will require small businesses and landlords to submit to arbitration in negotiating lease renewals if both parties can’t agree on a fair rent.
The far-reaching measure, sought by Upper Manhattan Councilmember Robert Jackson and deemed by some as a form of commercial rent control, would set regulated increases not subject to landlords’ whims.
The language of the proposed legislation — which mirrors a similar bill introduced in 1988 that fell one vote short of Council approval — looks to preserve small businesses in the current commercial landscape by prohibiting both short-term lease renewals and “rent gouging by greedy landlords.”
According to the measure, lease renewals would be set at a minimum of 10 years unless otherwise agreed upon, and arbitration would only be triggered if either party disputes the law’s set rent-increase rates. Those rates, the proposed plan indicates, allow for no more than a 3 percent rent increase the first year; no more than a 15 percent increase by the last year of the lease over the previous lease; and no more than 3 percent incremental increases each year of the lease.
The legislation would be applied on a case-by-case basis to all commercial tenants across the city, including manufacturing businesses, nonprofit organizations, performing arts and theater groups, retail establishments, service businesses and professional medical offices.
When asked about the measure’s chances of success, Jackson’s chief of staff, Susan Russell, said she believes “the provisions are reasonable,” but acknowledged the language is subject to tweaking. “I think that this is something that’s worth sitting down at the table and talking about,” she added.
Supporters claim that, in the current climate, small businesses can’t survive because real estate speculators artificially inflated property costs over the years, allowing landlords to seek astronomical rents.
“You cannot allow unchecked speculators to control any segment of your economy for 25 years and not expect people to suffer,” said Steve Null, a former small-business owner who helped write the current bill and the original measure in the ’80s. In the period between then and now, he said, 137,000 small businesses in the city have been issued eviction notices, not including the about 200,000 to 300,000 businesses “that didn’t want to fight and just walked away.”
“I don’t know a businessperson in New York City that would ever recommend a friend to open a business in New York City,” Null added. “It is so anti-small business that the odds of them surviving would be very slim. … This bill is going to bring that dream back.”
The whole Hog
Meatpacking District BBQ/biker bar the Hog Pit will open in new, larger space in the Flatiron District in as early as two weeks, marking the saloon’s successful secession from its increasingly upscale environs on Ninth Ave.
The new location — to be called Hog Pit New York City, at 37 W. 26th St. between Broadway and Sixth Ave. — will put more of a focus on food and expanding its Southern-style menu, said owner Felisa Dell on Monday, as she was busy setting up and interviewing new wait staff.
The 2,400-square-foot space — formerly occupied by seafood restaurant Black Pearl — will include seating for almost 90 in the dining room, plus an additional 20 or so at the bar. The restaurant will offer a late-night menu featuring favorites like ribs and mac ’n’ cheese, competing for customers with the critically acclaimed Hill Country barbecue directly across the street.
Dell said the Ninth Ave. location will still remain open until Dec. 24 when its lease is up, and that she had to scoop up the W. 26th St. space early to risk losing it to another tenant.
And what of the sawdust strewn-floored joint’s commitment to a decidedly unrefined appearance?
“We’re not going to have the same number of animal heads,” Dell admitted of the new space, which she described as “very woody.” “A lot of stuff over the bar was stuff customers gave us over the years. That has to happen slowly.”