Rent freeze bill passes House, heads to Senate

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A BILL to authorize the governor to freeze rent increases, evictions, and foreclosures during declared emergencies or disasters passed the House by a vote of 17-2 last week.

H.B. 21-112, which now heads to the Senate, was introduced by House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Sheila Babauta, Luis John Castro, Richard Lizama, Donald Manglona, Janet Maratita, Tina Sablan, and Edmund Villagomez.

Before the House voted on the bill, Rep. Tina Sablan introduced a substitute version with amendments that she said address the concerns and recommendations received from tenants, landlords, other lawmakers, the Micronesian Legal Services Corporation, the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation, and other stakeholders.

Speaker BJ Attao talks with Rep. Tina Sablan during a break from a recent House session. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol 

The substitute bill includes a 90-day limit on the freeze on eviction and foreclosure actions, as well as a 90-day period after the lifting of the freeze for tenants and mortgagees to have ample time to address their deferred payments before eviction or foreclosure actions can commence.

The latter period is negotiable, and may be extended at the discretion of landlords or lenders, Sablan said.

The substitute bill also contains language that clarifies that the rent freeze applies only to nonpayment for financial hardship, which means that evictions for criminal activity or lease violations that threaten health and safety would still be allowed.

Furthermore, the amendments allow for a nonrefundable credit on business gross revenue taxes for landlords who are adversely impacted by nonpayment or partial payment during the rent freeze period.

The two House members who voted against the passage of the bill were Reps. Ralph Yumul and Roman Benavente.

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