Can Commercial Landlords and Tenants succeed in opposing the NYC Street-Vendor Free-for-All Law?

Following a viral online video of NYC sanitation workers throwing away fresh fruits and vegetables confiscated from a Bronx street vendor with no license, support has surged for a state bill intended to lift nearly all limits on street vending in NYC. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos, would remove limits on street vending licenses and, essentially, allow street vendors to operate almost anywhere on public streets, sidewalks, and other public areas. Vendors could still be barred from operating on private property, but that is little consolation for city retail stores, restaurants, commercial landlords and tenants. Street vendors sell fresh produce and a seemingly endless number of other goods like household items, clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, tools, electronics, etc.

A street vending free-for-all will further devastate small commercial retailing and restaurants. These businesses have already suffered significantly from the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic. NYC already has a huge surplus of empty small retail spaces. Allowing more competition from street vendors will only make matters worse. Small restaurants face the same challenges and further, facer newly-imposed health-related restrictions on who can frequent such businesses. Street vendors can easily price-undercut brick and mortar establishments because:

  • Vendors do not pay rent and other expenses that commercial tenants must pay for commercial space
  • Street vendors have little or no operating expenses beyond the upkeep costs for their carts, stalls or vehicles
  • Vendors pay no real estate taxes
  • Many operate without insurance
  • Street vendors have no requirements to comply with building, fire, and safety codes
  • Vendor licenses are very inexpensive compared to a standard retail or restaurant business license or ballpark licenses
  • Street vendors also have convenience to offer customers — walk up and walk away with your purchase

Unregulated street vending also tends to blemish the “look and feel” that commercial property owners try and create to lure in customers.

Unfortunately, as between themselves, commercial landlords and tenants have little power to ameliorate the potential adverse impacts of street vending. Being private parties, commercial landlords have little authority to prevent or remove street vending on public property near their commercial property. Consequently, commercial tenants cannot expect to negotiate lease provisions that would require a landlord to provide a “vendor-free” environment. Likewise, landlords are unlikely to agree to any rent abatement if street vending truly takes a toll on retail sales. At best, a street vending free-for-all might further reduce asking rates and might increase the glut of vacant storefronts.

If you are considering signing a commercial lease, you should seek the advice and legal counsel of an experienced NYC commercial lease attorney. A possible street vending free-for-all bill should concern a prospective tenant before entering into a binding legal and financial obligation.

Contact Wright Law Firm NYC Today

If you need assistance with negotiating a New York commercial lease, call the experienced New York commercial lease attorneys at Wright Law Firm NYC. We provide top-tier commercial real estate legal services. Our goal is to build long-term relationships with our clients. By gaining insight into their objectives, we can focus the commercial lease negotiation on what matters most. To schedule a consultation, contact our office by e-mail or call us at (212) 619-1500.