14ymedio, Santa Clara, 21 February 2018 — The sign has faded over the months and it can hardly be read that the house is for sale. Luisa María, 68, has lived at the same address on San Miguel Street in the City of Santa Clara since she was born. It’s been more than a year since there were several buyers for the property, but the state is moving at a slower pace.
Since Raul Castro authorized the purchase and sale of homes in 2011, with the proviso that they must first be registered in the Land Registry, the system has been accumulating a huge backlog that it has been incapable of resolving. Although the Registry is nothing new, few Cubans have chosen to register their homes since the approval of the Urban Reform Act of 1962, which prohibited the real estate business. A mixture of apathy, fear of confiscations, or of being branded as bourgeois generated a huge backlog of unregistered real estate that now chokes the administration.
In order to untie the knot, the government approved a decree-law in January 2015 to transfer the functions of the National Housing Institute (INV) to other state entities, such as the Institute of Physical Planning (IPF). The measure sought to “resolve the centralization of functions and reduce the excess of procedures for the population, as well as numerous restrictions on the housing system,” in addition to “dealing with violations and illegal constructions.”
However, three years later, the INV continues to operate, leading to a duplication of functions and procedures that have have had an effect opposite to the desired one.
In the first half of 2017, the IPF responded to more than 104,000 filings, most of them related to technical descriptions and appraisals, and urban regulations, but the backlog remains.
Luisa María is one of the most alarming cases. “I’ve been running from one place to another for 15 months,” she complains. Nearly seven years ago the pensioner was filled with joy when the sale of homes between private parties was legalized, after decades of prohibition.
“Right away, I started to take steps to sell this to buy something smaller,” she tells this newspaper. Her two children had emigrated, her parents died some time ago and the big house with a patio, four rooms and an immense kitchen took ever more work to clean and maintain. “I decided to put this house uo for sale and look for something that does not need repairs, not so much as a nail in the wall,” she says.
The lack of agreement between the data included in some documents issued by the Housing Institute have forced her to repeat the process several times. To proceed with the registration of a property, it is necessary to engage a community architect who visits the property and certifies any changes that modify what is described in the property document, something very common in Cuba, where the structures of houses are altered many times because of the housing needs.
Outside the Santa Clara Property Registry Office the line forms very early on the days when it is open to the public: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Some are here for the first time, but there are also long faces that have returned again and again. Each day only 12 people are seen, while people stand in line since dawn.
The place has become a target of ’placeholders’ who get in line from the night before and then sell their places. “If you do not pay between 1 and 3 CUC it is very unlikely that you can enter before 11 in the morning,” explains Luisa María.
An employee of the Registry attributes the errors and differences between documents as the source of the delays. “We see many differences between the records containing the findings of the community architects and those of the Institute of Physical Planning (IPF),” she says.
The differences between the previous method and the current one have involved several clashes between institutions and some users end up entangled in the back-and-forth, which is the situation when one state entity blames the other for the problem.
“If we find errors we have to return the papers to the owner so that he can make the corrections with the issuing agencies,” laments the registry specialist consulted by this newspaper. “Sometimes they have to wait six months to a year to correct the mistakes” at the Housing Institute.
Some, to shorten the bureaucratic deadlines, offer to give money to the employees. “It cost me almost 100 CUC to resolve everything and fix the errors in my house papers but I couldn’t stay in Cuba any longer and had to accelerate the process,” says Maikel, a Cuban resident in the United States who recently repatriated to Santa Clera.
“I had to repatriate to be able to take ownership of the property of my grandmother’s house who is already very old, and now I am going to sell it and buy a small apartment for her, but the house will continue to be in my name,” the emigrant says.
Others do something more dangerous: they buy and sell without papers, waiting for the future to remove the obstacles and legalize the situation. It is what is popularly called “a gentleman’s agreement” but it is fraught with risks, including a dispute that ends up with the police until one of the parties backs down.
“I could not wait any longer because my husband lost a leg last year and we needed to sell our second floor apartment and buy something on the ground floor,” explains a woman who on Monday was waiting outside the property registry. “So I sold and bought and now I’m going to do the paperwork.”
After being seen, the woman’s dreams collapsed. “For my property it says that I have an open terrace but in fact many years ago they gave me a permit to enclose it with aluminum and glass.” Now she must again request that the community architect vist her house, although she insists that she registered the modification with the Housing Institute at the time it was made.
“At the Registry I have been warned that this may take months, so I will live with a lump in my chest the whole time, without papers for my new home,” she says.
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