New law will let Cubans buy and sell real estate for first time in half-century

For the first time in a half-century, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell real estate openly, bequeath property to relatives without restriction and avoid forfeiting their homes if they abandon the country, the Associated Press reports.
The highly anticipated new rules instantly transform islanders’ cramped, dilapidated homes into potential liquid assets in the most significant reform yet adopted by President Raul Castro since he took over the communist country from his brother in 2008.
But plenty of restrictions remain.
Cuban exiles continue to be barred from owning property on the island, though they can presumably help relatives make purchases by sending money. And foreigners can also hold off on dreams of acquiring a pied-a-terre under the Caribbean sun, since only citizens and permanent residents are eligible.

The law, which takes effect Nov. 10, limits Cubans to owning one home in the city and another in the country, an effort to prevent speculative buying and the accumulation of large real estate holdings. While few Cubans have the money to start a real estate empire, many city dwellers have struggled over the years to maintain title to family homes in the countryside, and the new law legalizes the practice.
The change follows October’s legalization of buying and selling cars, though with restrictions that still make it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy new vehicles. The government has also allowed citizens to go into business for themselves in a number of approved jobs — everything from party clowns to food vendors and accountants — and permitted them to rent out rooms and cars.
While Castro has stressed that there will be no departure from Cuba’s socialist model, he has also pledged to streamline the state-dominated economy by eliminating hundreds of thousands of state jobs and ending generous subsidies the state can no longer afford.
Cuba’s government employs about 80 percent of the workforce, paying wages of just $20 a month in return for free education and health care, and nearly free housing, transportation and basic foods.
Economists and Cuba experts say the new property law will have a profound impact on people’s lives, though probably will not be enough by itself to transform the island’s limping economy.
“This is a very positive step in the right direction toward greater economic freedom and individual and family rights of private property,” said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York who has extensively studied Cuba’s economy. “It will immediately increase the personal wealth of millions of Cubans.”
Omar Everleny Perez, lead economist at Havana University’s Center for Cuban Economic Studies, said legalization of the sale of cars and property could help Cubans who want to go into business for themselves acquire seed money.
“These are small things, but they point us toward an economy that is more normal compared to the rest of the world,” he said.
According to the Official Gazette, a government publication that disseminates new laws, the new system will eliminate the need for approval from a state housing agency, meaning that from now on, sales and exchanges will only need the seal of a notary.
Cubans will also be allowed to inherit property from relatives, even if they don’t live together, and they will be able to take title of property of relatives or others who emigrate.
Previously, such properties could be seized by the state. One caveat contained in the new law is that the government retains the right to nullify any sale if it finds that it resulted in someone being left homeless.
Cuban exiles in South Florida — many of whom lost family homes when they left the island — were ho-hum about the changes.
“How in the world are they going to establish the title for these homes?” asked Jorge Amaro, a retired realtor in Miami.
Amaro said he came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1961 at age 13 on the so-called Peter Pan flights. His parents later joined him, leaving behind the family’s six-bedroom home on one of Havana’s main boulevards.
“For instance, the property that my family had, who owns it? They’re going to have to pick an arbitrary date to decide ownership,” he said.

For the original report go to http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-ap-cb-cuba-private-property,0,7031257.story

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