As for Albany, Cruz said lawmakers continue to push for legislation to aid commercial tenants. While she is “extremely supportive” of commercial rent control bills, she said there are constitutional issues that need to be addressed.
“We need to look at the possibility of creating a rent control-like system that would curtail the way commercial landlords increase rents by exorbitant amounts,” she said.
Since May, Cruz has been advocating for a series of bills she sponsored that she believes will help small businesses reopen and put community members back to work. The Open for Business Act would provide tax incentives to businesses that employ local residents in part-time or full-time positions.
To qualify for the tax break, businesses must hire employees who meet specific requirements, such as living within 50 miles of the company and previously losing employment due to the pandemic.
Another bill that Cruz backs, the Save Merchants and Retail Tenants (SMART) Act, would establish a temporary state assistance fund to provide legal counsel to small businesses undergoing bankruptcy proceedings.
“If they can’t pay rent,” Cruz said, “they can’t afford to get a lawyer.”
A third bill, the Commercial Lease Efficiency and Resolution (CLEAR) Path Forward Act, would encourage tenants and landlords to renegotiate the terms of their leases outside of the courtroom. The legislation would provide a roadmap for both parties to negotiate a settlement, prevent litigation and avoid commercial evictions.
If they cannot reach an agreement, the legislation would provide criteria for the court to evaluate whether there should be a reduction of rent or termination of the lease.
“Landlords, if they’re good, would rather make money than have a vacant building,” Cruz said. “My bill says COVID is a legal excuse for you to get out of a lease.”
In addition to focusing on restaurants, retail stores and other small businesses, the assemblywoman said she wants to help street vendors. She noted that more people are turning to selling on the street out of necessity.
“People have no choice but to do street vending,” she said. “Folks who were working in restaurants and retail stores need to survive.”
Cruz said while she understands the frustration that small businesses have over street vendors, she said sometimes competition is a good thing.
“We want to work with everyone,” she said. “Everyone has a right to survive and seek the survival of their families.”
The assemblywoman said she’s committed to making sure small businesses get the resources they need to stay open. Many have been around for decades, but are facing closure because relief has not reached them yet.
“While we may have amazing ideas, if they don’t pass and get signed, they’re not going to help anyone,” Cruz added. “The most we can do is continue to push.”