TN 4 (04-12)
PS 01815.043 Puerto Rico
A. PS 12-078 Aracelis’ Eligibility for SSI Benefits
DATE: March 21, 2012
This opinion examines whether real property that no longer serves as the recipient’s principal place of residence can be excluded from countable resources. The recipient owns a house in Puerto Rico that she no longer uses as her principal place of residence, and she alleges her daughter has an equitable ownership interest in the real property. The recipient’s real property could be excluded from countable resources if the obtained case evidence proves the following: (1) the real property is the recipient’s home (regardless of what is the intent to return); (2) the daughter is a co-owner of the house; and (3) the sale of the house would cause undue hardship, due to loss of housing, for the daughter.
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