Cuba passes law allowing private home sales

Cubans react to the news that they are now allowed to buy and sell houses

Cuba has approved a law allowing individuals to buy and sell homes for the first time since the early days of the revolution, official media say.

The law, which takes effect on 10 November, applies to citizens and permanent residents only.

Correspondents say this is the most important reform so far in a series of free-market changes introduced by President Raul Castro.

A housing shortage has meant that many Cubans live in overcrowded apartments.

An article in the Communist Party daily Granma said details of the new law would be published in the government's official gazette.

Start Quote

Many people have lived and live with the fear of losing their homes because they acquired them in an illegal way. Now they'll be able to legalise them and to sleep in peace.”

End Quote Osmel Gonzalez food vendor in Havana

The change follows the legalisation in October of the purchase and sale of cars, though with restrictions that still makes it hard for ordinary Cubans to buy new vehicles.

Black-market

The ban on property sales took effect in stages after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959.

Parents were able to pass property on to their children, but buying and selling property was not allowed.

The rules have meant that for decades Cubans could only exchange property through complicated barter arrangements, or through even murkier black-market deals, often involving illegal payments and bribes.

With the new law, Cubans will be allowed to own a maximum of two properties - their main home and a holiday home.

Cuban flag on a building in Havana Many Cubans live in overcrowded apartments, because of a housing shortage

A popular aspect of the law will be the abolition of the government agency which regulated house swaps - a system much open to abuse.

Currently, three to four generations of a single family often live together in small apartments, because of the severe housing shortage.

Divorced couples have often been forced to live together for years while they seek separate housing.

"Many people have lived and live with the fear of losing their homes because they acquired them in an illegal way. Now they'll be able to legalise them and to sleep in peace," said Osmel Gonzalez, a self-employed food vendor in Havana.

Raul Castro has said repeatedly that the Soviet style system in Cuba is not working since he took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, but he has vowed that Cuba will remain a socialist state.

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