You asked whether X~’s ownership of Chinese real property constitutes a resource for
supplemental security income (SSI) eligibility purposes, where X~ claims that such
property is not freely transferable.
Yes. X~ is able to sell or otherwise transfer his ownership interest in Chinese real
property. Accordingly, that property constitutes a resource for purposes of SSI eligibility.
On January 12, 2012, X~ and Y~ applied for SSI as a married couple. X~ and Y~ were
both born in China, but currently reside in California and are naturalized United
States Citizens. On July 10, 2012, the agency denied X~ and Y~’s application for SSI,
finding that their total resources exceeded the statutory Limit. Specifically, X~
admitted that his father transferred ownership of a house to him in 1985. X~ stated
that the house’s value was approximately $16,000. X~ and Y~ testified that they do
not intend to return to China to live in the house.
On September 5, 2012, X~ requested reconsideration. On October 31, 2012, X~ submitted
additional information. Specifically, in an October 31, 2012 statement, X~ claimed
that his eight siblings were co-owners of the house his father transferred to him
in 1985. He identified the address of the house as ~~ ~~~, Nansha Residential Committee,
Jun’An Town, Shunde District, Foshan City, China. Additionally, X~ submitted September
5, 2012 statements from his mother and sister. X~’s mother, then 95 years old and
Living in the house, asserted that all nine of her children are co-owners of the property
located at ~~~ ~~~. Likewise, X~’s sister represented that she has an ownership and
residential right in the property.
X~ also provided a certificate issued by the Nansha Community Residential Committee,
 dated November 16, 2011. According to the certificate, X~ was the original resident
of the house located at ~~~ ~~~ . The certificate also stated that X~’s parents and
siblings have lived in the house permanently, and X~ is prohibited from selling this
house to others.  On November 26, 2012, the agency denied X~’s request for reconsideration and he requested
a hearing on January 8, 2013. The ALJ held a hearing on February 21, 2014. An attorney
represented the couple at the administrative hearing and X~ testified on his own behalf.
On August 27, 2014, in response to your request, X~ submitted a Property Rights Certificate
with a registration date of January 17, 2006, showing that he owns property at ~~~
~~, Nansha Residential Committee, Jun’An Town, Shunde District, Foshan City, China.
 X~ made no prior mention to this official property record, nor did he explain his
failure to produce this record prior to the agency’s request. The certificate lists
X~ as the sole owner of the house. The certificate lists the State as the owner of
the land, and indicates that the land-use right has been assigned.
To be eligible for SSI payments, claimants must prove they are at least 65 years of
age, or blind, or disabled with limited income and limited resources and legally residing
in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
See Social Security Act §§ 1602, 1611; 20 C.F.R. § 416.202.
A resource, for SSI purposes, includes assets that an individual owns and could convert
to cash and use for food or shelter, including real property. See Social Security Act § 1613; 20 C.F.R § 416.1201(a). If the individual has the right
or power to liquidate the property or his share of the property, it is a resource.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a)(1). If an individual disposes of his or her resource for
less than fair market value, he or she becomes ineligible for SSI benefits for 36
months. See Social Security Act § 1613(c)(1)(A); Program Operations Manual System (POMS) SI 01150.001.C.3; SI 01150.003. The limit for countable resources is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.
See Social Security Act § 1611(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 416.1205; POMS SI 01110.003.A.2.
Although the agency considers real property a resource, an individual’s principle
place of residence, regardless of value, is an excluded resource (the home exclusion).
See Social Security Act § 1613(a)(1); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1210(a), 416.1212; POMS SI 01130.100. Property ceases to be the principle place of residence as of the date that the individual
left it with no intention of returning. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1212(c); POMS SI 01130.100.B.
Similar to the home exclusion exception, the agency also excludes the value of an
individual’s ownership interest in jointly owned real property if the sale of the
property would cause undue hardship, due to loss of housing, to a co-owner (the undue
hardship exception). See Social Security Act § 1613(b)(2)(A); POMS SI 01130.130.
The People’s Republic of China  The People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) provides for the protection of private
property in its 1982 Constitution and 2004 amendments. See Zhang, Laney,
China: Real Property Law, the Law library of Congress, Global Legal Research Center (October 2014), 1-2. Article
13 of the PRC Constitution provides that “[c]itizens’ lawful private property is inviolable.”
Id. at 1.
The PRC Property Rights Law, which became effective on October 1, 2007, addresses
the establishment, alteration, transfer, and elimination of property-related ownership
rights, and the registration and delivery of movable and real property rights. Id. at 2.
According to the PRC Constitution and Property Rights Law, individuals cannot privately
own land and natural resources in China. Id. at 3. Instead, the state owns urban land and collectives own rural and suburban land.
Id. However, individuals can obtain a right to use land. The land-use right allows the
right-holder to legally possess, use, and benefit from property owned by another (whether
the state or a collective). Id.
In urban areas, the state grants or allocates land-use rights to land users. Id. For granted land-use rights, land users pay the state granting fees for a certain
number of years. Id. Currently, land may be used for residential purposes for up to seventy years. Id. at 4. When the term for the right to use land for residential purposes expires, the
term automatically renews. Id. If the land owner dies prior to the expiration of the seventy year or renewal term,
the land-use right passes to the owner’s heirs.  China’s Assignment Regulations provide that land users may transfer their land-use
rights to others through sale, exchange, gift, mortgage, or lease. Id. at 4. When transferred, the land-use right and the right to structures on top of
the land (home ownership) transfer simultaneously.
In transferring real estate rights, the new owner obtains the land-use rights only
for the period equivalent to the original assigned term minus the number of years
the original owner has used the land. Id. at 5. However, as discussed above, a residential land-use right term will automatically
renew upon expiration. Id.
According to the 2006 Property Rights Certificate, X~ owns a house located at ~~~
~~in Foshan City, China, identified as an urban area. Although X~ does not own the
land upon which the house is situated, it appears that the State has assigned him
land-use rights, which renew automatically every 70 years. Per the PRC Constitution
and Property Rights Law, X~ may sell or otherwise legally transfer these property
rights.  Thus, because X~ has an ownership interest in real property, which he could sell
or otherwise convert into cash, that property is a countable resource.  See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a); POMS SI 01110.100.B.1.
Furthermore, the property does not qualify as an excluded resource under the home
exclusion rule because the house is not currently X~’s principle place of residence
nor does he intend on returning to it.
Although X~, his family, and the Nansha Community Residential Committee claim that,
per cultural tradition, X~’s siblings and parents are co-owners of the property, they
fail to provide any legal documents to confirm this claim. Moreover, the Property
Rights Law provides that land-use rights must be registered with local government
land authorities at or above the county level; these authorities issue certificates
to affirm these rights. See Zhang, Laney, China: Real Property Law, at 5. Thus, the Property Rights Certificate, identifying X~ as the sole owner, appears
to be dispositive.
Despite their allegations to the contrary, the agency has not received evidence showing
that X~’s family members have any registered legal interest in the property, and Chinese law does not recognize family ownership
arising from cultural traditions of an “ancestral home.”  Moreover, X~’s failure to produce the property rights certificate prior to August
2014 suggests that his prior allegations of co-ownership may have merely been an attempt
for X~ to evade the implications of sole ownership. Therefore, because the 2006 Property
Rights Certificate lists X~ as sole owner of the property, the property’s sale cannot
cause any undue hardship on co-owners, and the undue hardship exception does not apply.
Individuals cannot privately own land in China but may obtain transferable land-use
rights. In addition, Chinese law permits individuals to privately own residential
houses and apartments built on state-owned land. Based on the documents he submitted
to the agency, X~ owns a house and has been assigned a renewable land-use right to
the underlying land. Because X~’s property interest is freely transferable and may
be converted to cash, it constitutes a resource for purposes of SSI.