Cuba easing property market rules

Cuba has announced the first details of a highly anticipated new law meant to loosen rules on the buying and selling of homes and cars, which have been tightly controlled since soon after the 1959 revolution.

The law is still being crafted and will take effect by the end of the year, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said.

The rules are meant to help ease a severe housing shortage and legalise unofficial title transfers that are commonly used to skirt the state's rigid rules.

Under the current system, which allows one-to-one home swaps, thousands of dollars in cash typically pass under the table in complicated black-market transactions that can involve multiple parties and several properties.

Some Cubans enter into sham marriages to be able transfer property titles.

Individuals will still not be allowed to own more than one home, and the sales will be taxed, Granma said.

Bureaucratic hurdles will be eliminated, meaning transactions can be completed without having to seek prior authorisation. Family members will be able to inherit property even if they are not living at the address.

"A policy has been designed that aims to simplify the bureaucracy for carrying out any kind of act of property transfer, and decrease the prohibitions on the matter, which over the years contributed to the occurrence of innumerable violations," Granma said.

It added that the changes will do away with "cumbersome administrative procedures and decisions".

"This is very, very good. People here were waiting for this," said 72-year-old Havana retiree Mercedes Limonta. "Until now you had the feeling that your home didn't really belong to you, because you couldn't do as you liked with it."

The law is part of a sweeping package of free-market changes that the government is counting on to perk up a sluggish economy. Guidelines for the changes were approved at a Communist Party Congress in April, but details have been slow to emerge.