Emergency Coronavirus Law for DC Bars and Restaurants
The COVID-19 emergency has decimated the hospitality industry and the legal situation is fluid. We have put together this legal guide to assist you in identifying appropriate resources. If you own a nightlife establishment, I will be glad to consult with you free of charge.
1. Lease Provisions.
Many commercial leases contain force majeure, (commonly called ‘act of God’) provisions. If this is in your lease, your rent may be suspended or forgiven. Lease agreements vary widely, and even if your lease has force majeure, it may not cover the current situation. Consult with your lawyer before deciding how to proceed.
2. Agreement with Landlord.
You should communicate with your landlord about finances. Even if you don’t have protective lease clauses, it makes sense for your landlord to work with you. If your business fails, the landlord may go without rent for a very long time. As such, a temporary rent concession may be a good business decision.
3. Unemployment Insurance.
DC’s emergency coronavirus law makes unemployment benefits more readily available, buy, benefits paid are not be charged to your account. That means your UI tax rate will not be increased.
Sales tax payments are suspended until July 20. This is not a forgiveness of sales tax liability, merely a delay. Likewise, income tax is delayed until July 15. Businesses can file and pay state and federal taxes by the later deadline without interest and penalties.
5. Utility Services.
All three utility providers are prohibited from terminating service for nonpayment during the emergency.
6. Suspension of Evictions.
All evictions are suspended. However, the Emergency Coronavirus Law does not impact your rent obligation. So, if you don’t pay the rent, your landlord can’t evict you now, but, may be able to use it against you later. The process varies from lease-to-lease and you should consult with your lawyer before making any decisions.
Your insurance policy may include coverage for interruption of your business. There is no guarantee that you are covered for a public health emergency, but, check your policy, speak with your agent, and make a claim if you can.
8. SBA Loans.
SBA Disaster Loans are available to cover economic losses. Businesses with less than 100 employees may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million. Applications can be submitted online and should take three (3) to four (4) weeks to process. Here is a link to additional information.
9. Limited Operations.
Establishments can continue take-out and delivery, including alcohol, with some restrictions:
- You must register with ABRA by completing an online form here;
- On-premises consumption is prohibited. You cannot serve customers while they are waiting for take-out;
- You must sell a prepared food item with alcohol. (like a sandwich, a bag of chips don’t count).
10. Anti-Price Gouging.
The Emergency Coronavirus Law prohibits charging more than the average retail price for goods. At least one retailer has been cited to date.
11. License Fees
Annual license fees are due on March 31 for some establishments. The payments are delayed until further notice.
12. D.C. Grants
The Mayor announced $25 million in small business micro-grants. Details are scant, but, businesses must show a 25% revenue loss. Applications will be available Tuesday here.
I will update this post periodically as additional information becomes available. Before you make any decisions, you should talk to your lawyer. If you don’t have one, I am offering free assistance. Simply make an appointment for a conference call here