Under the Land Laws of Puerto Rico, various programs were established to provide individuals
or families with low income, plots of land for housing or farming. The relevant laws
pertaining to property ownership are discussed in this transmittal.
This law provides plots of land to individuals, but the government retains ownership
of the land. This is called the right of “usufruct.” The individual to whom the right of usufruct was ceded cannot, “under penalty of abatement, sell, transfer, exchange, rent, cede, assign, lease, or
in any manner alienate or encumber, in whole or in part, the usufruct right granted.”
This would indicate the property is not a resource to the individual.
The documentation for this arrangement is the “usufruct contract.”
This law authorizes the Secretary of Housing to grant title deeds to “usufructuaries” or occupants of parcels of land for the sum of one (1) dollar. The occupant acquires
the title deed of the parcel and enjoys all of the property rights guaranteed by law,
including the right to sell it at current market value. However, an individual who
sells, transfers, or gives up the parcel in any manner is disqualified from acquiring
another parcel under the Land Law.
This would indicate the property is a resource to the individual since he/she has
ownership interest, the legal right to access the property, and the legal right to
use the property for personal support and maintenance.
The documentation identifying ownership is the “title deed.”
This law provided for plots of land to be used for purposes other than housing for
low income families. If the purpose was to establish food stores, churches, consumer
and production cooperatives, etc., that serve the community, the plots of land set
aside for these purposes were leased, but the land could also be sold.
If leased, it would not be considered a resource. The documentation is the “lease contract.”
If sold, the property would be considered a resource. The documentation is the “title deed.”
This empowered the Secretary of Agriculture to award parcels (farms) to qualifying
individuals under a life contract of usufruct. The individual could build a house
and work the land for agricultural purposes only. However, the individual had to pay
semiannual rentals “to be determined on the basis of recovering the cost of the lands and other properties
granted in usufruct for the term of forty years...”
Since a usufructuary may not sell, transfer, exchange, cede, assign, or in any manner
alienate or encumber, in whole or in part, the usufruct right granted to him, the
arrangement is not a resource. After the forty years, however, the person possessing
the farm as a usufruct becomes the owner of the farm.
While under the laws of usufruct, the property is not a resource. The individual has
to submit the “usufruct contract.”
After the forty years has elapsed and ownership acquired, then the “title deed” is required.
The law established that any person with a life contract of usufruct ceded under the
original Land Law for a term greater than ten years could apply for and be granted
its property title. An individual acquiring a farm under this law enjoys all of the
property rights guaranteed ....including the right to assign, lease, sell, exchange,
mortgage, encumber, or dispose of it in any legal manner. The semi-annual rentals
are credited against the selling price.
Under these conditions the property is a resource to the individual.
The various sections of this program permit lease with the right of ownership of lots,
lots with houses, or small farms. Therefore, some individuals may exercise the option
to purchase the property immediately, and some may first lease the property and later
purchase it. Section 16 permits individuals, with the approval of the Homestead Commissioner,
to assign their leases or ownership to other persons who are qualified under this
Act to lease or purchase such lots, lots with houses, or small farms pursuant to regulations
of the Homestead Commissioner.
Due to the ambiguity of the situation, field offices encountering individuals alleging
ownership or lease of property obtained under the Homestead Program (other than Section
19 below) should refer the documentation to the Program Operations Center for review
by the Office of General Counsel, Region II.
(New Homestead Program resulting from Hurricane Georges)
Section 19 of the Act stated that “those persons who acquire a home under the 'New Homestead' program may not transfer
ownership for 5 years from the date of acquisition or within whatever term the Federal
or Commonwealth laws and regulations may provide, should these be more restrictive.”
Since an individual owning property under this law can presumably sell the property
after 5 years from the date of ownership, it would be a resource after the 5 years
have elapsed unless the individual can provide documentation that the terms governing
his/her ownership are more restrictive.
The documentation for the Homesteads program could be either the “lease contract” if leased or the “title deed” if owned.