This office is responding to your request for legal advice regarding Aracelis’ eligibility
for SSI benefits. Aracelis is a current SSI recipient who owns a house in Puerto Rico.
She claims that her adult daughter pays all costs related to the house and, as such,
her daughter has an equitable ownership interest in the house. You asked whether the
agency could exclude the value of Aracelis’ house, under POMS SI 01130.100B.5.b, from her countable resources if her daughter lives in the house and has an equitable
ownership interest in the house.
The agency could exclude the value of Aracelis’ house from her countable resources,
provided that it obtains statements from Aracelis’ and her daughter indicating that
the daughter (1) uses the property as her principal place of residence; (2) would
have to move if the property were sold; and (3) has no other readily available housing.
The agency’s regulations direct that if a claimant has the right to liquidate her
real property then that real property is a countable resource. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a)(1).
The claimant’s home, however, is an exception to the regulation and, as such, is considered
an excluded resource. POMS SI 01130.100B.1. The POMS define a home as property in which the claimant has an ownership interest
and that serves as the claimant’s principle place of residence. POMS SI 01130.100A.1. Property ceases to be the principle place of residence as of the date the claimant
left it with no intention of returning. POM SI 01130.100B.4. Such property, if not excluded under another provision, is included in determining
countable resources. Id. A claimant’s home is an excluded resource, even if the claimant leaves the home with
no intention of returning, if its sale would cause an undue hardship, due to loss
of housing, for a co-owner of the property. POMS SI 01130.100B.5.b. Co-ownership of a property exists where an individual, other than the title holder,
has established an equitable ownership interest in the property. An equitable ownership
interest is a form of ownership that exists without legal title of property. POMS
SI 01110.515A.2. An individual may acquire equitable ownership interest in his or her home by
performing certain activities such as making mortgage payments or paying property
taxes. POMS SI 01110.515C.3.
For the agency to exclude the value of Aracelis’ house from her countable resources,
she must demonstrate that: (1) it is her home (regardless of whether she ever intends
to return to it); (2) her daughter is a co-owner of the house; and (3) the sale of
it would cause undue hardship, due to loss of housing, for her daughter. POMS SI 01130.100B.5.b.
As to the first prong, Aracelis must show that the house is her home. See POMS SI 01130.100A.1 (a home is property in which the claimant has an ownership interest and that served
as the claimant’s principle place of residence). The POMS instruct the agency to accept
an individual’s allegation of home ownership unless the file raises a question about
it. See POMS SI 01130.100C.1. You have not indicated that there is any question about Aracelis’ ownership interest
in the property and, as such, for the purposes of this memo, we assume that she owns
the home. If, however, there is an issue, the agency should request evidence of ownership,
such as a tax assessment notice, a recent tax bill, a mortgage statement, a deed,
or report of title search.
If Aracelis’ daughter lives in the house and has an equitable ownership interest in
it, then she is a co-owner and, as such, Aracelis satisfies the second prong. Here,
it is not clear whether Aracelis has alleged that her daughter actually lives in the
home, or only that the daughter pays all the related costs. You should obtain a statement
from Aracelis and her daughter regarding their arrangement.
Regarding the third prong, Aracelis must demonstrate that the sale of the house would
cause an undue hardship, due to loss of housing, to her daughter. POMS SI 01130.100B.5.b. An undue hardship would result if a co-owner: (1) uses the property as his or her
principal place of residence; (2) would have to move if the property were sold; and
(3) has no other readily available housing. POMS SI 01130.130A.2. Again, we recommend that you obtain a statement from Aracelis and her daughter
about their arrangement to confirm whether these elements are present.
If Aracelis satisfies all three prongs, we recommend excluding the value of her home
from her countable resources.
Mary Ann Sloan
Acting Regional Chief Counsel Region II
Assistant Regional Counsel