Public-private partnership between Empire State Development, Start Small Think Big & New York State Bar Association
Will provide small businesses and landlords with pro bono legal assistance to renegotiate lease terms in wake of COVID-19
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced the launch of the “New York Forward” small business lease assistance partnership. Recognizing the economic impact of COVID-19, this program will provide small businesses and their landlords with informational resources and pro bono assistance to help both parties reach mutually beneficial lease workout agreements. This service is available to all New York state small businesses and landlords, and participation is voluntary. Over the next year, the partnership has the capacity to serve thousands of small businesses statewide.
"Small business are the backbone of any strong economy and it is critical that we work to find ways to support them during these difficult times," Cuomo said. "The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the economy has been nothing short of devastating and, through partnerships such as this, we can help to alleviate the burdens many business owners are facing. While a moratorium on commercial evictions is currently in place, this new public-private partnership will help provide an additional level of stability for small businesses and ensure they are able to play a role in helping build New York's economy back better than before."
As part of this program, Empire State Development is partnering with the New York State Bar Association and Start Small Think Big, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting small, under-resourced entrepreneurs with high-quality professional services. For this partnership, Start Small will be offering pro bono legal services from its network of more than 1,000 attorneys, to commercial tenants and landlords seeking lease amendments to cope with the impacts of COVID-19. The New York State Bar Association has served as the voice of the state's legal profession for more than 140 years and will support the recruitment and training of additional volunteer attorneys.
The Small Business Lease Assistance Partnership website includes information on the lease renegotiation process and details the different types of lease workouts available to help small businesses cope with the financial impacts of COVID-19. Those interested in pro bono assistance to initiate a lease renegotiation are encouraged to review and complete the partnership's intake form. After completing the form, each small business will receive an email detailing an estimated timeline for placement with a volunteer attorney. Once matched, the volunteer attorney will email the applicant to schedule an appointment.
Empire State Development Acting Commissioner, President and CEO-designate Eric Gertler said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately created new and unforeseen economic challenges for small business owners and landlords across the state. Working together with Start Small Think Big and the New York State Bar Association to establish this partnership, our goal is to help commercial tenants and landlords reach mutually beneficial agreements by engaging in productive discussions and taking advantage of the free legal assistance provided through this program."
Start Small Think Big Legal Program Director Alex Stepick said, "We are excited to partner with New York state and the New York Bar Association to help small businesses during this unprecedented time. Start Small Think Big helps small business owners grow and sustain their businesses through free legal, financial planning and marketing services. We support a diverse network of entrepreneurs, including those who are of color, women, members of disadvantaged groups, and/or low-income by connecting them to lawyers and other high-quality professionals volunteering their time to provide free 1:1 support and the expertise needed to solve their businesses' legal, financial and marketing issues."
New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson said, "While businesses want to stay current on their rent, the terms of leases that were established pre-COVID may make it financially impossible for them to do so as the pandemic drags on. The New York State Bar Association has enlisted the services of volunteer attorneys, who are ready to help willing businesses and landlords renegotiate and reach a solution that works for everyone. We are providing these services free of charge, because a strong economy is in everyone's best interest and helping New Yorkers in need is the highest calling of our profession."
A press release said, “This partnership furthers the state's ongoing efforts to mitigate pandemic-related commercial evictions. On Oct. 20, Cuomo signed an executive order extending the state's moratorium on COVID-19-related commercial evictions and foreclosures through Jan. 1. This extends protections already in place for commercial tenants and mortgagors in recognition of the pandemic's financial toll on business owners. The extension of this protection gives commercial tenants and mortgagors additional time to catch up on outstanding rent or mortgage bills, or to renegotiate their lease terms to avoid foreclosure moving forward.”
The partnership is also the latest resource that furthers New York state's commitment to supporting small businesses struggling in the wake of COVID-19. In October, Cuomo launched Empire State Digital, a new initiative accelerating New York-based small businesses' ability to grow their online presence through a first-in-the-nation program with leading global e-commerce enablers, offering specialized solutions unique to the needs of the state's small businesses. Additionally, the “New York Forward” loan fund continues to provide working capital loans of up to $100,000 to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations reopen.