When Your Home Can Be Excluded as an Asset for SSI Disability

Social Security won't usually count your home toward the asset limit for SSI purposes, as long as you're living in it.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated 9/06/2023

To qualify for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, you must meet the Social Security Administration's (SSA) definition of disabled and meet certain income and asset limits.

SSI allows a single person to have only $2,000 in assets to stay eligible for SSI, and a married couple can only have $3,000 in assets. But some assets, like the home you live in, won't be counted when determining your eligibility—if you meet certain requirements. When the SSA doesn't count your house as a resource, it's called the "home exclusion." (20 CFR 416.1212.)

What Is SSI's Home Exclusion?

The home exclusion means that you won't lose your SSI if you buy a house. To be eligible for the SSI home exclusion, you must own your home. To qualify, you can own the house in a number of ways:

  • You can "hold title" to the house by yourself (be the sole owner).
  • Share the title with others (have co-owners).
  • Have an equitable interest in the property (more on this below).

In addition, the home must be your primary place of residence. Your principal place of residence is the house you live in and that you consider as the main place you live (where you go back to stay on a regular basis). Your home can be a mobile home or fixed home and can be on either land or water (like a houseboat).

However, below we'll discuss a couple of weird situations where your house or all of your land might or might not be excluded from your income

Does the Value of the House Matter for the Home Exclusion?

Social Security doesn't consider the value of a house home when determining whether the home will be excluded; the entire value of your house will be excluded. Also, the land that the house is located on and any buildings that are on the land (like a barn or garage) are excluded as well.

Can a Person on SSI Inherit a House or Buy a House?

Yes, you can inherit a house as long as you make it your primary residence and it qualifies for the home exclusion (for instance, it's the only house you own).

You can also buy a house without it affecting your disability benefits, as long as you're careful not to go over the asset limit when you're saving for a down payment. For more information, see our article on buying a house while you're on disability.

What If Your Land Is Separated by Another Person's Property?

If you own land on which your home is located, but it's divided up by another person's property, only the value of the land on which your home actually sits will be excluded. For example, if you own ten acres and your home is only located on two acres, and the remaining eight acres are separated from the house by a tract of land owned by someone else, only the two acres on which your home sits will be excluded. Social Security will include the value of the remaining eight acres when they determine your assets.

What If You Own the Land But Not the Home?

Even if you live in a home you don't own, if you own the land the home is located on, the land may be excluded from your resources. An example of this is if you live in a mobile home or trailer that someone else owns, but the mobile home is located on land that you own.

Note though, that in this case, if you're not paying rent for the mobile home, Social Security might consider the use of the mobile home as "in-kind support and maintenance."

Type of Ownership Interest

To count as your primary residence and be excluded from your resources, you can own the house outright by yourself, or your ownership interest can be "shared" or "equitable."

Shared Ownership

Shared property ownership is when you legally own the property with someone else (both of your names are on the deed). It doesn't matter who you own the land with or how the ownership is "titled" (as tenants-in-common, tenants by the entirety, or as joint tenants).

Equitable Ownership

Equitable property ownership is when you have an ownership interest in a property even though your name isn't on the deed. You may have some equitable ownership in a house if you:

  • help pay the mortgage
  • do the work to make improvements to the home (such as room additions), or
  • pay someone else to make improvements to the home.

Evidence Needed for Home Exclusion

To show you meet the requirements of the home exclusion, you'll need to provide Social Security with some evidence.

Proof of Ownership

You'll need different evidence depending on whether you are a sole or shared owner or an equitable owner in the home.

Sole or shared ownership. Here are some of the documents you can use to show you have a shared ownership in the home:

  • a deed
  • a property tax assessment notice with your name on it
  • a recent property tax bill with your name on
  • a current mortgage statement with your name on it
  • a report from a title search
  • if you inherited the property through an unprobated estate, then you need to provide evidence of the inheritance, such as a will, proof of income from the property, or some other evidence that shows you were entitled to inherit the property under the laws of the state that governed the estate. (An unprobated estate is one that didn't go through the court.)

Equitable ownership. If you aren't listed as an owner of the home, you'll need to provide a statement of support from the person with whom you have the equitable ownership (the owner or lessor of the house). If you have evidence such as bills showing that you paid for additions or repairs to the home or you made mortgage payments, you should provide those as well.

SSI applicants or recipients who claim equitable ownership will have their case reviewed by the SSA's Regional Counsel. The Regional Counsel will give an opinion about whether the equitable ownership exists.

Principal Place of Residence

Unless you own more than one home, Social Security will assume that the property is your principal place of residence. However, if you own a second home (perhaps shared with family members), you must tell Social Security:

  • how much time you live at each place
  • where you are registered to vote, and
  • which address you use for your mailing address or for tax reasons.

The SSA will then use this information to decide which home is your principal place of residence.

If You Leave the Home and Don't Intend to Return

Generally, if you leave your home and don't "intend to return," the home will no longer be eligible for the SSI home exclusion. On the first day of the month after you leave, your house will begin to be counted as a resource for SSI.

However, there are a few exceptions to the rule so that you're unable to keep the home exclusion despite not being able to return.

Exceptions to Leaving Your Home

Under some circumstances, even if you leave the house and don't intend to return, the SSA will still allow the value of your home to be excluded from your assets. Here are those circumstances.

  • You are institutionalized (in a nursing home, hospital, or other institution), but your spouse or a dependent relative continues to live in the home.
  • Selling the home would cause undue hardship because the co-owner would lose his or her place to live.
  • You have to leave the home due to domestic violence and you haven't:
    • set up a new principal place of residence, or
    • done anything that would make the home not excludable as an asset (like turning it into a rental property).

Who Counts as a Dependent Relative?

A dependent relative is one who depends on you for any reason (such as for financial or medical help.). A relative includes:

  • your child (including adopted, step, and grandchildren)
  • a parent (including stepparents or grandparents)
  • an aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew
  • a sibling (including half and step)
  • a cousin, or
  • your in-laws.

The SSA Can't Consider Some Factors When It Determines "Intent to Return"

Social Security may still allow you the home exclusion if you have to leave your home but can't return to it for reasons beyond your control. This can happen if, for example, you're hospitalized or your home is damaged.

In this circumstance, the SSA will make a decision based on your statement of whether you intend to return to the home and won't take into account the following factors:

  • your age
  • your physical health
  • your mental health (capacity and competence), or
  • "other circumstances" (such as damage to your home).

Here are some examples.

Contact the SSA With Questions

If you have questions about the home exclusion, Social Security will be able to answer them for you. The SSA is available Monday through Friday, 800-772-1213. If you want to talk to someone in person, you can go to your local Social Security field office. Make sure you call your field office ahead of time to see if you need an appointment.

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