The Department of Public Lands will be summoned to the CNMI House of Representatives to provide answers to questions relating to the issuance of deeds to homestead owners.
This came soon after the House was poised to act on Sen. Francisco Cruz’s (R-Tinian) Senate Bill 21-10, which seeks to mandate DPL to issue a deed of conveyance to eligible homesteaders within 45 days instead of two years.
Rep. Antonio SN Borja (R-Tinian), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, noted at the Oct. 28, 2019, House session on Capitol Hill that his committee did not receive comments from DPL about the bill. Borja further noted that requests for comments were distributed to the Saipan Mayor’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office and that not one submitted comments.
He suggested that the House act on the legislation without the comments.
Rep. Roman Benavente (R-Saipan), also a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, attested to DPL’s lack of response.
However, Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) noted that DPL submitted comments on two occasions—one at the request of the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs through a Feb. 21, 2019, letter, and another in an Oct. 2, 2019, letter, also addressed to the Senate committee counterpart.
In the Oct. 2, 2019 letter addressed to Sen. Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian), who chairs the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs, DPL Secretary Marianne Teregeyo noted that her department only releases deeds according to CNMI law, which requires homesteaders to construct a home on the lot.
However, DPL also has the authority to waive that requirement if the homesteader can show that a construction permit cannot be obtained due to the lack of power, water, or waste infrastructure, as per Public Law 20-05.
To date, DPL has not issued a quitclaim deed to a homestead permittee who has not fulfilled the basic requirements of constructing and completing his/her dwelling and residing within the dwelling structure,” Teregeyo wrote.
“We find that shortening the time from two years to 45 days to mandate a deed of compliance does not rectify the inability of a homesteader to build a home due to the lack of the necessary resources mentioned,” she said. “Simply, DPL has not revoked any homestead permits that have been issued in subdivisions without infrastructure.”
In a separate statement, Rep. Janet Maratita (R-Saipan) questioned the need for Senate Bill 21-10: “Why is this bill necessary? Because if the homesteaders are not in compliance, then I believe we should just follow the Village Homestead Act of 1979. I support the intent to give those [compliant] homesteaders their deeds within 45 days but we have to bear in mind the reason behind Village Homestead Act or 1979.”
The Village Homestead Act of 1979 requires power, water, and a wastewater line at a homestead lot before DPL could release the deed to that lot.
According to S.B. 21-10, the intent of the legislation is to cut the length of time homesteaders who received homestead lots without infrastructure to receive their deeds of conveyance. In total, homesteaders receive their deeds at most after five years—three years after the date of entry and up to two years for the issuance of the deed.
The House later unanimously agreed to defer action on the bill pending discussions with Teregeyo in tomorrow’s session.