Landlord and Tenant Rental Act needs further review, says senator

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HOUSE Bill 21-79, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Landlord and Tenant Rental Act of 2019, remains pending in the Senate and must be reviewed further, a senator said.

The Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs met on Tuesday to discuss the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Janet U. Maratita. Senators said they will discuss it further in the next committee meeting.

“I believe the bill is noble and I believe the intention is highly understandable,” Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar said. “I believe it will be an awesome bill…. [It] came about because of [Typhoons] Soudelor and Yutu.”

However, he added, “there are a lot of questions that will arise with respect to the rights of the tenants and the landlords. I think because the impact of this bill is so wide, we need to really clarify the…categories of tenants and  landlords.”

He said some landlords are also “just trying to survive.”

“Most of these landlords are, I would say, retirees that have homes they are renting out because they don’t necessarily need them because their children are overseas,” Igisomar said. “Some of these landlords are elders [who are] not necessarily involved in the contracts. This bill has a lot of information on contracts that must be put in place, which will be a burden on these people who will try and go look for some legal means of paying attorneys to try to formulate contracts.”

According to the senator, “We have a lot of people out there who, because of the economic [downturn], are renting homes below the market. This bill is also trying to state that absent a contract, a person must pay market value. We know that there are a lot of homes out there for a person who is making below $15,000 or is just working part-time — all they can really afford is a particular building for $50 or $100, [despite not having] water [and/or] power.”

Igisomar said the bill would require that “everything must be written…and no agreements out there must exist without following the provisions of this bill. The bill is good, but it can be devastating at the same time. If we’re going to move forward with the bill, it might require a public hearing so that we can get a lot more feedback. There are a lot of people out there with different circumstances, and maybe they have a better opinion of what might be better included in the bill. I’m not saying no to the bill. I’m just saying that it requires a lot of study to make sure that we really take care of our people.”

Senate Floor Leader Justo S. Quitugua, for his part, referenced Article XII of the CNMI Constitution, which pertains to restrictions on alienation of land.

He said according to Attorney General Edward Manibusan, if a lawsuit were to materialize for whatever reason, the landowner would be sued, not the landlord who leased the property.

“This will be really burdensome and unfair for the landowner when the landowner has leased the property for 55 years, for example, and the developer develops the apartment, and yet, if anything happens, it is the landowner who winds up in court,” Quitugua said.

“I think we should look at this legislation carefully, and perhaps we can ask that the legal counsel look closely at the comments provided, particularly the issues with who will be the recipient of a lawsuit, the landlord or the landowner. I also agree with Senator Sixto that perhaps we need to further deliberate on this bill and call for a public hearing.”

The committee chair, Sen. Francisco M. Borja, said they should also look into the public comments provided by the Department of Commerce, which opposes the bill for several reasons.

He added that perhaps, in the interest of saving time, the House of Representatives “should be getting comments on these kinds of bills so that when they come to the Senate, we at least have those concerns already addressed and don’t need to delay further on moving forward with the bills.”

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