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Sunday, April 20, 2014

House OKs penalties for owners of abandoned Saipan properties

Owners of abandoned, blighted, and vacant properties on Saipan could be subjected to penalties of up to $1,000 per day, among other things, if they do not act on second and subsequent government warnings, once a bill that the House of Representatives passed on Wednesday becomes law.

Members debated Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero’s (Ind-Saipan) House Bill 18-71 or the Nuisance Abatement and Blighted Property Maintenance Act of 2013 before acting on the main motion to pass it.

Vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan), for example, said the bill seems to legislate common sense since maintaining one’s own property should be common sense.

Dela Cruz said it is also “not fair” to penalize private property owners up to $1,000 a day, and not penalize the government for not doing something about its vacant and also blighted properties.

“[Private] folks couldn’t even cut the grasses [on their property], and then we ask them to pay $1,000 a day. I think we should go back to the drawing board and reassess this legislation,” he said during debate.

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said the bill’s intention is good, adding that perhaps the Legislature can set aside more resources to the Division of Parks and Recreation, for example, to be able to clean up and maintain a lot of the government properties not currently in use.

The bill passed by a vote of 17-0 with Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan) voting “present” and two absences.

HB 18-71, House Draft 1, House Substitute 1 now goes to the Senate for action.

Over the years, Saipan has seen a lot of abandoned, blighted, and vacant properties that create increased safety and security risks to the community, including unsecured or open doors and windows, broken water pipes, theft of metals and other materials, overgrowth of grass, weeds, shrubs and bushes, illegal dumping, and rodent and vermin activity.

Neglect devalues these properties and causes deterioration in residential, industrial and commercial areas.

The biggest risk that blighted properties present to the community is safety risks, according to the bill because they “create a haven for crime.”

Under the bill, the Commonwealth Zoning administrator is required to issue a warning notice to any violator 60 days before any penalties are imposed.

When a warning is issued and is not acted upon, penalties begin to accrue including a minimum of $200 fine and any other penalties authorized under CNMI law for the first offense.

Second and subsequent offenses are subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per day, among other things.

Fines and penalties collected are to be transmitted to the Finance secretary for deposit in a separate property maintenance revolving fund account within Finance. This fund will be available for use by the Commonwealth Zoning Office without further appropriation.

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