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Real estate registry program remains 'work in progress'

2015-02-28 09:32 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
A property construction site in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province. (Photo/Provided to China Daily)

A property construction site in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province. (Photo/Provided to China Daily)

As regulation takes effect, worries recede over related property taxes and corruption probes

On Sunday, the Provisional Regulation on Real Estate Registration will take effect, and there is renewed speculation that a property sell-off looms as corrupt officials scramble to unload property acquired with illicit gains.

However, a closer look at the regulation itself and interviews with experts suggest that much of the talk is just hype.

The regulation, containing 35 articles, makes it clear that the goal is to end a patchwork system overseen by various agencies and standardize the registration procedure. The Ministry of Land and Resources has the mandate to guide and supervise real estate registration nationwide.

Every government jurisdiction at or above the county level has been directed to establish a special agency to be responsible for registration.

A conference held by the ministry in mid-February said that most provincial governments have already established a single agency for registration, while consolidation work at the sub-provincial and county level is advancing. To facilitate the implementation of the regulation, a detailed version of the implementation rule will be announced soon.

All this suggests that for now, institution-building is the priority of policymakers, while levying tax or exposing illegal property holdings - which is what many feared - is not what the authorities have in mind.

A report by Industrial Securities Co Ltd said that the full implementation of the regulation is a project with a long timeframe and the chances are "slim" that it can be finished within two years.

A "unified information platform" will be established, and it will become fully operational by 2017, said Wang Guanghua, an official with the land ministry who is in charge of the matter, when the regulation was passed on Dec 22.

Without a "unified information platform", it will be difficult to levy property tax on a national scale, which means a nationwide property tax will not materialize before 2017, although such taxes can be imposed within cities.

Li Miaoxian, an analyst with Bank of Communications International Holdings Co, said that the essential function of the regulation is to consolidate the property ownership data that has been scattered among numerous jurisdictions. Doing so will enable the authorities to trace how many properties an individual holds in different locations, Li said.

Work on a unified registration system was initially led by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. By 2012, the ministry had integrated housing information in 40 cities. But plans to expand it to 500 cities were delayed for various reasons.

A section of the regulation stating that the nation aims to achieve "real-time intercity information sharing" means that the housing ministry's work has been superseded by the new system.

"'Real-time intercity information sharing' is the meat of the regulation," said Li.

However, a commentary by the People's Daily on Friday claimed that the property tax has yet to materialize, but not because the authorities lack sufficient information on property holdings.

Rather, there is a concern over the "social impact", it said.

Sun Xianzhong, a law researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the top think tank of the central government, said the regulation is a "totally different arena" from the laws that guarantee the transparency of officials' assets.

If investigators want to collect a suspect's housing information, it should not be difficult for them to trace properties back to a "corrupt element" no matter whose name is on the ownership certificate - the regulation does not make it easier or harder, said Sun.

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