Buyers of affordable housing units were informed by the Housing Bureau (IH) that their pre-contract agreement would be terminated because they married in the meantime. Following complaints, the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) analyzed the case and has said that the complainants are right, since the current Affordable Housing Law “does not impose that the spouse of an applicant must be included as a household member.”
“The IH should accept the applications of the economical housing applicants who get married during the waiting period for not including their spouses as household members, and should issue letters of authorization to applicants for establishing property transaction deeds when the other legal conditions are met,” a CCAC statement issued yesterday reads.
The CCAC has received a total of 27 complaints from appointed buyers of affordable housing and the office of legislator Lei Cheng I. According to the complaints, the Housing Bureau rejected the applications from approved buyers of affordable housing for not including their spouses as household members.
According to the facts established by the CCAC probe, between 2003 and 2005, the complainants submitted the applications for affordable housing flats under the old Social Housing Law. Following the approval of their applications, they were admitted to the waiting list. Around 2012, the flats were allocated to them and the pre-contract agreements were signed. Subsequently, they moved into their flats.
In April and May 2016, the complainants received letters from the IH indicating that in order to help them enter into the property transaction deeds, the IH requested they provide the latest information of their households and their marital status. Since the complainants got married during the waiting period, they filled in the “declaration of not being a household member” provided by the IH requesting not to include their spouses as household members.
In March and April 2017, the complainants received a letter from the IH informing them that according to the Economical Housing Law, their applications not to include their spouses as household members were rejected and therefore their spouses should be considered household members. Because the spouses in question owned their residences in Macau, when they became the applicants’ household members, the legal requirements for purchase of affordable housing were no longer met and the pre-contract agreement was terminated.
The complainants argued that the decision made by the IH violated not only the Housing Law but also the guidelines that it initially issued. They claim to have made inquiries to the IH when they were going to get married, and that the reply was that if “separation of assets” was chosen at the point of marriage, the spouse would not be included as one of the household members and therefore their qualification for the housing purchase would not be affected.
According to the CCAC, the problem arose because the IH has changed its previous stance and recently issued a new internal guideline. According to that document, the bureau began to consider that as long as there is a husband and wife relationship and they are living together, the person will automatically become the household member and the application for not including the spouse in the household will be rejected. This is unless the applicant can submit justification, such as separation from spouse.
Therefore, according to the IH interpretation, when the affordable housing applicant gets married during the waiting period, his or her spouse should necessarily be a household member, and it is not possible not to declare this situation.
The CCAC refutes this, claiming that the law defines households from the perspective of qualifications for applying for affordable housing flats and does not stipulate that people who live together because of their kinship must be considered household members.
Stressing that public departments should act according to the law, the CCAC notes that “since February 2017, the IH has changed its stance and usual practice, rejecting the applications of the economical housing applicants who got married during the waiting period for not including their spouses as household members.” According to the commission, the cause for the change “was that since some of the applicants’ spouses had already owned their residences in Macau, the IH hoped to utilize the valuable public housing resources in a proper way.” However, the CCAC notes, “such a decision should be made based on a specific legal basis” and in accordance with the law. And according to the CCAC, that is what the Housing Bureau failed to do.
The CCAC further suggests that the “IH should improve the current legal regime of economical housing in an opportune time in order that the public housing resources can be impartially, rationally and fully utilized.”