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Ruling party pushing for rent discount for small businesses amid pandemic

Politics 15:14 December 17, 2020

SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) has set out to find ways to cut rent for small business owners teetering under the protracted COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, DP Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon reaffirmed his party's push to get landlords to slash rent for small business owners struggling under the weight of the new coronavirus.

The drive for so-called fair rent gained traction earlier this week after President Moon Jae-in raised the issue of small business owners who have to shoulder a heavy economic burden due to coronavirus-related restrictions on their operations.

"It's painful to ask whether it is fair to let (small business owners) solely shoulder the entire burden, even including rent," Moon said during a meeting with his chief aides Monday.

"(The country) needs to muster wisdom to find ways to get the whole society to share the weight of the pain, not forcing sacrifices by the weak," the president noted.

As South Korea is struggling to curb the worst, third wave of coronavirus infections, operations of cafes, restaurants, sports facilities, wedding halls, cram schools and other businesses in Seoul and surrounding areas have been severely restricted or suspended under the Level 2.5 social distancing rules, the second highest of the five-tier system, in the greater Seoul area.

This photo shows a banner on a street in Busan on Nov. 3, 2020, installed by a group of small business owners who call for a discount in rent amid the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Yonhap)

DP Rep. Lee Dong-ju then officially filed a proposal to revise the Commercial Building Lease Protection Act, billed as the "rent suspension law."

The proposed bill aims to prohibit a lessor from charging rent for a business-running tenant whose operation was closed under the antivirus social distancing regulations. A lessor, under the bill, can only charge half the rent for those whose business operations were partly suspended as part of the disease prevention measures.

A similar bill has already been proposed by DP Rep. Lee Sung-man in September and is currently under review by a relevant parliamentary committee.

As the proposals immediately drew criticism for the potential infringement of landlords' property rights, however, the DP has veered toward establishing incentive-based policies to induce voluntary rent discounts from landlords.

The party is now considering rewarding landlords who offer to cut rent for struggling tenants with tax reduction or financial benefits, such as reduced interest payments on bank loans, according to party officials.

The government has been providing small tax incentives to landlords who voluntarily lower rent for small business owners in traditional markets and shopping complexes under the so-called good landlord campaign. But many see the voluntary campaign that relies on the good will of landlords as having a limited impact.

"It is too harsh (for small business owners) to be required to pay the full rent when their businesses have been suspended and incomes have disappeared due to the coronavirus pandemic," the DP chairman said in a party meeting Wednesday. "(The DP) will come up with a comprehensive package of protection measures for small business owners and the self-employed, including those concerning rent," he added.

Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon (C) speaks during a top party council meeting on Dec. 16, 2020. (Yonhap)


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