A Bill to Save Your Studios, New Yorkers

by Whitney Kimball on January 29, 2015 · 5 comments Newswire

A rendering of the vision for Industry City, what used to be a major complex for artist studios and small manufacturing businesses

A rendering of the vision for Industry City, what used to be a major complex for artist studios and small manufacturing businesses

Anybody experiencing astronomical surprise rent raises on your studio? If you have, you’ve probably discovered by now that there’s slim to none you can do about it. In New York, few rent control protections exist on commercial leases when they expire, allowing companies like Jamestown Properties and Troutman Business Zone LLC to flush hundreds of artists, galleries, and residency programs out of their spaces. Not to mention all those weirdo specialty stores, like the record district or the flower district or divey diners, niche bookstores, and West Village sex shops that supposedly used to define the New York character.

But tenants’ fortunes might look a little better in years to come, thanks to a bill reintroduced in June 2014 by Council Member Annabel Palma. The “Small Business Jobs Survival Act” would give small business owners (and artists) more negotiating power when renewing leases. Apparently, versions of this act have been sitting around in City Council since the Dinkins administration (history here). According to the Small Business Congress, it was re-introduced in 2010 but didn’t get a hearing in the last four year City Council term.

Note that this is NOT a rent control law, but it does give tenants significantly more power over the terms of their leases. A few key points:

  • tenants get the right to renew their leases across the board. Til now, that right had to have been included as a clause in the pre-existing lease.
  • landlords must notify tenants a year in advance if they plan to reclaim the space for redevelopment. If they don’t, the tenant can collect damages.
  • if the landlord plans to retake the space in order to start his/her own business, it “cannot be the same type of business that the current tenant is operating” (otherwise, the tenant gets compensated at market value for the loss of his/her business)
  • tenants and landlords are given a 180-day window to negotiate the terms of a lease renewal with a mutually-chosen mediator
  • tenants can dispute a landlord’s refusal to renew a lease
  • both tenants and landlords can seek damages if the other doesn’t cooperate with the mediation process
  • lease renewals are a minimum of ten years unless otherwise agreed upon by both the tenant and the landlord

Artists, the Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP), plans to fight for this bill on your behalf and are fundraising here. Another fundraiser for the act is up on Change.org.

Relatedly, 596 Acres, a group which maps vacant publicly-owned lots, is also fundraising.


pilgrim mayhem January 30, 2015 at 6:25 am

how come no one comments ever? but then you made the post about ryder then BAM its like flooded with cockroaches of art lovers ready to disqus

strunken white January 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

hear hear.

This is a subject I’m ignorant in, so this is idle speculation but: I wonder, assuming that this isn’t a rent control measure, if the minimum lease renewal will be more likely to hurt artists by locking them into leases they can’t afford to maintain for a period of ten years and then forcing them into court to get out. (I’ve witnessed this in other cities and I imagine it would be as ugly if not uglier here)

I’ve never had a studio housing my working process because I can’t afford it on top of the materials I use. Another thing is that most people I know in the city who have studios haven’t maintained them in the same space for that period of time. I haven’t even lived in an apartment here longer than 3 years at a time in my 12 years in new york. Holding a fairly robust part-time schedule consistently or a full-time job seems necessary to a lease that long in this city and that’s not something I’ve seen too many artists under 40 (myself included) do for 10 years straight.

I realize there are a lot of assumptions (and, as I mentioned above, not a lot of experience thinking about this subject), but this seems to have some serious drawbacks for artists in ways that might seem at first to protect them…

Paddy Johnson January 30, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I think the 10 year lease is a contentious element, but it really only applies if the renter wants a 10 year lease. If not, then they negotiate a different time period.

Most businesses need stability, and a ten year lease guarantees that. It’s not particularly favorable to a landlord though, so I expect we’ll see some push back on this.

Avery K. Singer February 3, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Honestly – people should be moving to LA or Berlin. Or seeking space in the Bronx. Thinking you can effectively salvage something in the real estate situation of Manhattan or Brooklyn is pure delusion. In practical terms!
This 10 year model might be effective if large groups of artists rented big spaces together — investing in dividing it up and renovating to their needs. it protects that investment — which artists lose everytime they are forced to move to a new space.
I only see these “affordable space initiatives” as political stunts. Idk what happened to the artist community in NYC but when I was a kid (my parents were/are artists and live work renters) the entire community would go to Albany with their families and demand legal protections and rent stabilization …

WhitneyKimball February 5, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Well, there’s no stopping it, that’s for sure, and de Blasio’s new affordable space initiative is a joke relative to the problems IMO. But small measures like this can make really marginal but important headway, at least, if they’re structured permanently (unlike the loft law). The Alternate Plan for Cooper Square, a community-owned land trust, has made housing permanently affordable in around 20 buildings in the East Village, without constructing another disastrous city-run housing project. The land trust plan is increasingly being looked at as a model which, even if it’s too late for NYC, can be applied elsewhere so this doesn’t perpetuate forever. So I guess there’s something worth fighting for here even if we’re rethinking our options.

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