Cornegy: Joint Hearing Aims To Tackle Small Businesses’ Day-To-Day Concerns


As the City Council readies for a joint committee hearing to listen to the concerns of small business owners, City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Small Business Committee, said he is pleased with the progress the city has made in helping small businesses, but more still needs to be done.

But one item the Bedford-Stuyvesant/Northern Crown Heights lawmaker is not looking at is the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which advocates for the bill has been pushing its passage for 30 years. The measure would institute 10-year commercial leases with renewals up before binding arbitration.

City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr
City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr

“The Small Business Jobs Survival Act has a lot of advocates who I respect and I appreciate their hard work in and around the SBJSA, but on a daily basis what I hear from small businesses on is about the excessive fines and fees. I hear about escalating utility costs. I hear about increased  rents. I hear about poor lease negotiations. I hear about day-to-day tangible things,” said Cornegy.

“That’s what Friday’s joint hearing is about. To listen to the vast array of concerns small businesses are expressing throughout the city of New York. Displacement being one of them – a large one, but we need to hear from them and agencies need to hear from them. I’ve done [small business] tours myself, from the Upper West Side to Coney Island to Far Rockaway,” he added.

Cornegy said one of the complaints he hears from small businesses on a daily basis usually revolves around city inspectors issuing excessive fines and fees, and that the city has already taken great steps in getting them standardized.

“When I first took office three years ago there was fines and fees for the same offense ranging from $200 and $1,400 for the same thing. So standardizing that was very important,” said Cornegy, adding that now the de Blasio Administration is focusing on more uniformity.

“So while the fee itself is standardized, you can get one inspector, who says, ‘Hey, you have a sign that should be six inches this way,’ and the very next day another inspector can come in and ask them to move it the opposite way. So what the city needs is uniformity as it relates to inspectors, and needing to have more inspectors that can come out more consistently to work with that,” Cornegy said.

Cornegy also noted that de Blasio signed the first commercial tenant protection law in the country a few weeks ago. Under the measure, commercial tenants will get some legal recourse from commercial landlords who neglect their property or harass their tenants to get them out for higher rents.

Cornegy said there has been a case where a landlord shut the water off on his property every weekend, that in effect, forced his retaurant tenant, whose main business was on weekends to move.The Council also got the administration to commit to $5 million in legal fees so there’s an RFP out for legal services to come on board. So if you are a commercial tenant who finds yourself in the context or the confines of that law you can actually now have the city provide legal resources to combat your landlord, he said.

“I’m acutely aware of the SBJSA. As soon as I took this [small business committee chair] three years ago, we met with the Small Business Congress at least three times. They are very active and aggressive and that’s one of the things that makes New York City great. That you can do that. You can push for that as an agenda. However, while that big looming piece of legislation has had difficulty in meeting its’ goals over 30 years, we’ve been able to accomplish some things incrementally,” said Cortnegy, adding that the upcoming hearing aims to continue along this path.

The City Council joint hearing of the Small Business Committee and the subcommittee on Zoning and Incentives is slated for 10 a.m., Friday, Sept. 30 at City Hall in Lower Manhattan. The hearing is open to the public.