Fits and starts on rent freeze bill

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Posted on Jul 01 2020
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House rent for the month of July comes due today and, while many landlords have given renters more leeway in paying their monthly bill, that is just a debt that is growing and the CNMI Legislature is still working on a bill that weighs the need of renters and the rights of landlords.

In line with this, the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs took up House Bill 21-112, HS1, yesterday and the several implications of the bill, which seeks to authorize a freeze on rent increases, evictions, and foreclosures during a state of emergency or during a major disaster. The bill not only makes price and rent increases illegal during the duration of the freeze, but also makes evictions and foreclosures for non-payment illegal.

Introduced last April just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ratcheting up, where “the ability to shelter in place can mean the difference between life and death,” the bill seeks to assist renters from getting evicted from their homes, due to their inability to pay absent any income. The bill passed the House last May.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development also extended the suspension of foreclosures and evictions until the end of August, to provide more time and assistance to families, without them having to worry about losing their homes, as they recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19.

During the Senate committee meeting, Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) cited a bill that was introduced during the time of Typhoon Soudelor that did not move forward due to the resources that would be needed and the ongoing contracts that would be challenged by the bill.

The lawmaker also noted that putting the bill together “requires a lot more analysis than just simply passing this bill without a proper public hearing or further analysis” as it would also “injure rights of the tenant and rights of the landlords.”

Senate floor leader Sen. Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan) also raised the need to look into the 1976 analysis of the CNMI Constitution regarding property owners and mortgages signed by banks, and the need to call the director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corp. regarding rental subsidies given to tenants during disasters.

Sen. Francisco Cruz (R-Tinian), referencing illegal price increases during disasters, stressed that “it’s important that a legislation should be in place to address concerns so that people or business can be responsible and be penalized if there is [violation] in the regulation or law.”

The committee deferred action on the bill, and will be discussing it at their next session, following the legal counsel’s review of the 1976 analysis of the Constitution.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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