Senate committee defers action on rent freeze bill

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs met in the Senate chamber on Capital Hill. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

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THE Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs on Tuesday decided to defer action on House Bill 21-112, which intends to “authorize a freeze on rent increases, evictions, and foreclosures during a declared state of emergency or major disaster.”

Comments on the bill were received from the Office of the Attorney General, the 17th Rota Municipal Council, the Department of Commerce, the 17th Tinian Municipal Council, and the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation.

Introduced in April by the House minority bloc and passed by the House in May, the bill, in its findings and purpose, says, “The law does not currently stop a landlord from evicting a tenant pursuant to a contract or from constructively evicting a tenant by making living conditions more unbearable, during a declared state of emergency or major disaster.”

The bill would make price increases, rent increases, evictions, and foreclosures for non-payment illegal for the duration of the rent freeze.

The committee agreed to call in the executive director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation to discuss the federal funding the agency has received to assist renters in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“[NMHC] receives grants to provide subsidies to tenants who need assistance during this kind of situation,” Senate Floor Leader Justo S. Quitugua said. “I also understand that [NMHC], if I’m not mistaken, received probably $1 million from [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to assist tenants who may be facing eviction during this time due to non-payments. I think all that [NMHC] has to do is to work on the regulations on how to manage the funds from HUD. It would be good to hear from the [NMHC] director before we act on this legislation.”

The senator added that it would also be beneficial for the body to review the 1976 analysis of the CNMI Constitution, which, he said, includes prohibitions against property owners in regards to the market, contracts, and foreclosure.

Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar, for his part, said a similar bill was introduced in the Senate, but the upper chamber decided not to move forward with the bill due to the complex nature of challenging ongoing current contracts at the time.

“I want to make it clear that whether [we are] supporting this bill or not does not mean that we are not listening to the needs of our community. The governor does have an emergency state of declaration in which he could  freeze  these items. To try and put a bill together with such details will injure the rights of the tenants and rights of the landlords, which, I think, requires a lot more analysis than just simply passing this bill without proper public hearing or further analysis,” Igisomar said.

Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz, for his part, said even though the governor’s executive order on price freeze is still in effect, some prices continue to rise.

“I think it’s important that a legislation should be in place to address this concern so that people and businesses can be held responsible and be penalized if there is a [violation] in the regulation or law,” he added.



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