On June 23, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) presented its Small Business Navigation of COVID-19: A Briefing on Relief and Remedies panel as a part of AABANY’s wider initiative to provide support for those adversely affected by COVID-19. The event highlighted professionals working in a variety of fields and addressed concerns regarding how to safely open up and potential next steps for small businesses. The panel was moderated by Margaret Ling, Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corp. and Co-Chair of the AABANY Real Estate Committee, and featured Amol Pachnanda, Partner at Ingram Yuzek LLP and Co-Chair of the AABANY Real Estate Committee; William Ng, Shareholder at Littler Mendelson P.C.; Anthony Kammas, Partner at Skyline Risk Management, Inc.; William Hao, Counsel at Alston & Bird LLP and AABANY Treasurer; and Anthony M. Bracco, Partner at Anchin Accountants and Advisors.
Amol Pachnanda began by discussing COVID-19’s effect on the tenant-landlord relationship and best practices for tenants to avoid eviction. Tenants should be familiar with the lease agreement and seek legal counsel in any disputes with the landlord. Communication between tenants and landlords is critical as both parties possess significant incentives to avoid eviction. Tenants should be aware that the Moratorium on Evictions has been extended for an additional 60 days and any rent demands must be nullified if the tenant states that they have been impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, New York State real estate personal guarantees and “Good Guy Guarantees” have been made non-enforceable as tenants are no longer legally bound to vacate within a set timeframe if they are unable to pay their rent.
William Ng addressed how small businesses should reopen and some of the potential legal issues with phase 2 and phase 3 reopening. Business owners must go online and complete the New York Forward safety plan template and keep the plan on the premises at all times. Each business must affirm whether they have submitted a plan or have a plan in place during inspections. Small businesses are also encouraged to maintain a cleaning plan and document daily hygiene and sanitation activities to limit employer liability in the event that an employee does contract COVID-19. If an employee does contract COVID-19, small business owners are responsible for reporting the case to the relevant authorities and putting together a plan that ensures the safety of the other employees. The plan should include contact tracing measures and other appropriate protocols to limit contact and exposure.
Anthony Kammas discussed how small businesses can maintain their insurance coverage while reopening and other ways to mitigate liability. Employers should review their business policies and keep detailed records of their sanitation efforts to make sure they can retain their coverage in the event that individuals claim they contracted COVID-19 on the premises. Moreover, it is critical that employee handbooks are updated to address the challenges currently posed by COVID-19. Employers should also be mindful of the HIPAA liabilities associated with additional employee screenings. If employers contact trace, any information regarding the infected individual must remain confidential. As many policies do not cover the cost of sanitation and cleaning, Anthony Kammas recommends seeking third-party cleaning services to shift liability down away from the business owner and to the cleaning service if an incident were to occur. Small business owners should be more careful when buying new policies as carriers are becoming increasingly narrow in their wording to avoid excessive coverage.
William Hao then explained how Chapter 11 bankruptcy may be a viable option for struggling small businesses. Chapter 11 bankruptcy focuses on restructuring and reorganizing as the business undergoes a court-supervised process by which creditors and debtors come together to discharge bad debts and re-negotiate contracts and formulate a plan moving forward. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy provides a business a set of tools and leverages to incentivize creditors to come to the table and establish an agreeable plan for all parties. Businesses are entitled to an automatic stay, which stops any litigation and collection efforts that are burdening them. Businesses can also reject bad contracts during this process. Creditors are incentivized to negotiate with debtors as creditors are aware that any contracts paid out during this time would amount to a smaller fraction of the original debt. In addition, the absolute priority rule is voided, and other regulations and costs that had previously barred small businesses from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy have been waived.
Lastly, Anthony Bracco discussed how small businesses can still apply for benefits under the Payment Protection Program (“PPP”) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”). Under the PPP, small businesses can apply for up to two and a half months’ worth of employee payroll costs with any new loans having a five-year repayment period. These loans qualify for 100% loan forgiveness if they are spent within 24 weeks and at least 60% is spent on payroll costs. The percentage of loan forgiveness is reduced if employers reduce the compensation of anyone earning $100,000 by 25% or more or reduce full-time equivalents. However, employers are not accountable for restoring full-time equivalent employment if employees are not willing to return to work or due to government shutdown. Small business owners can apply for loan forgiveness any time within the 24 week window if all of the PPP loan is spent. As for the EIDL, small business owners can obtain a loan up to $150,000 with an advance loan of $10,000. Even if the full EIDL loan is not granted, small business owners are entitled up to the $10,000 advance loan. Small business owners can apply for both the PPP and the EIDL but must deduct the $10,000 EIDL advance loan from the PPP loan. Anthony Bracco also described different options available for small business owners to cover employee costs in addition to applying for the PPP. Instead of cutting headcount by a certain percentage, small business owners can reduce employee salaries by the percentage of those that were to be terminated and the Department of Labor will cover a portion of the pay lost.
We would like to thank Margaret Ling for moderating and organizing this informative event and the panelists for their time and dedication to help those adversely affected by COVID-19. To learn more about the Real Estate Committee, click here. To view the recording from the webinar click on the image above.