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Government Now Restricting Inquiries Into Property Holdings

A Chinese political cartoon showing a person trying to use inquiries into public records by name to investigate illegal income with a person across from him stopping him arguing that it infringes upon personal privacy and commercial secrets.
Left: "Must be public, transparent. Perhaps this way we can expose a homeowner's illegal income." Hat: Real Estate Property Information Magnifying Glass: Inquiries By Name Right: "This way will infringe upon personal privacy and commercial secrets, no, no!"

A Chinese political cartoon showing a crowd (the public) surrounds a man with multiple houses.

The following article attracted an incredible 320k+ people participating in its comments section with 15k+ comments…

From NetEase:

Multiple Areas Now Strictly Restricting the Use of Names to Look Up That Person’s Property Information

Summary: Recently Fujian, Jiangsu and other areas have sped up the launch of regulations for inquiries into property information, imposing restrictions on the “looking up property by person [name]” type of inquiry that allows people to input a name to look up properties under that name. The city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province claims that individual housing/property information has been released irregularly in certain areas, leading city residents to worry about the safety of their housing/property information. Media have claimed that the frequent “House Uncle” and “House Aunt” incidents have turned the housing information system into a nightmare for some government officials.

[Note: “House Uncle” and “House Aunt” refer to recent media stories involving certain individuals being “exposed” as owning large amounts of property that they apparently should not have been able to afford. “House Aunt” refers to 68-year-old Li Yunqing, who supposedly had 24 properties registered under her name, with a total value approaching 15 million yuan. To netizens, this seemed like a clear case of corruption, as it seemed impossible to acquire so much real estate on an engineer’s salary.]

Since the last half of 2012, the frequent occurrence of “House Uncle/Aunt” incidents have made the housing information system a nightmare for some government officials. Recently, some areas have sped up the launch of regulations for inquiries into property information, with these regulations specifically restricting the “looking up property by person” method of inquiry where one can input an individual’s name to look up how many properties are registered under that name. Until now these types of regulations were rarely seen.

A Chinese political cartoon about the 2012 "House Aunt" controversy where a man says he hears she owns 24 houses and her replying that she only owns 6.
Man holding paper with “Investigation” written on it:
“I hear you have 24 houses.”
House Aunt: “Where?! I currently only have 6 houses!”

Zhangzhou, Yancheng Prohibit “Looking up Property by Person”

On February 16, the Fujianese city of Zhangzhou issued a statement, that in order to “improve the handling of the public release of property rights information and the protection of privacy,” Zhangzhou recently launched the “Provisional Procedures for Property Registration Information Inquiry.” According to these procedures, except for those applying to inquire about one’s own property information, or inquiries assisting public security authorities and similar government organs, it is strictly prohibited to use [only] a person’s name in an inquiry, [and such inquiries may] only be made with the specific address of the property or the building ownership certificate number, while inspection workers are required to keep property rights information confidential. The city of Zhangzhou will also strengthen the implementation of relevant accountability mechanisms.

The city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province recently launched the “Yancheng City Property Registration Information Inquiry Management Measures (Provisional),” implementing conditional inquiries and restricted inquiries on property information. Apart from personal, public security authorities, the Housing and Social Security Department, attorneys, and the like going through certain procedures, it is “uniformly prohibited to ‘look up property by name'” in all other circumstances. The measures claims that individual housing/property information has been released irregularly in some areas, “leading a portion of city residents to worry about the safety of their individual housing/property information, with various circles of society also being rather concerned.”

According to this reporter’s understanding, after the the “House Uncle/Aunt” incidents, the Beijing Building Committee has internally clarified the regulations, and private individuals are not permitted in any circumstance to make similar inquiries. During the Guangzhou “House Aunt” incident at the end of 2012, a Guangzhou City Discipline Committee investigation showed that the information was released by a supernumerary [a temporary worker not part of the regular staff] at the Panyu District Exchange Registration Center, who without any approval made an inquiry in violation of regulations. The investigation also showed that the funds 68-year-old “House Aunt” Li Yunqing used to purchase her property all came from legal income such as compensation for the demolishing of property she inherited from her parents, and there was no violation of laws or regulations.

China’s Property Information Inquiry Systems Getting Stricter

Property registration is an important system in property rights, and also one used throughout the world. By making registrations public, not only does it guarantee the person in question’s rights, it also makes third parties aware of changes in a property’s status, allowing them to avoid suffering losses. Every nation generally permits public inquiries into registration information, however, because it involves personal privacy and commercial secrets, there are varying opinions just how open inquiries should be. Although the scope and degree of how publicly open residential registration information is varies from country to country, in general they all restrict it to “looking up person by property”, with “looking up property by person” under tight control. However, in present-day China, this type of control has deeper implications, and therefore is frequently the subject of hot public debate.

Looking at the evolution of China’s property registration information inquiry system, the control of inquiries is trending towards stricter restriction. In 2006 the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development launched the “Provisional Procedure for Building Ownership Registration Information Inquiry,” adopting the “looking up person by property” format. This measure is is clear-cut, “with respect to property ownership records and information collected by property registration organs, employers and individuals may make public inquiries.”

However, in the “Property Rights Law” implemented in 2007, the openness of registration information was reduced somewhat, restricting the inquiry and reproduction of registration information to “the rightful owner and stakeholders.” In 2008 the Housing and Urban-Rural Development Ministry issued “Housing Registration Management Provisional Measures” stipulate that individuals and employers may inquire into registration records about a property’s basic status (primarily referring to its natural status) as well as any rights-restricting statuses such as being seized or mortgaged; After the rights-holder presents the relevant documentation and materials, they can make an inquiry or make a copy of the relevant information of that property’s registration. Jiangsu Yancheng’s local regulations enacted this time used the “Housing Registration Management Provisional Measures,” implementing conditional and restricted inquiries. Reporter: Wang Su.

Chinese political cartoon showing a government official using protection of privacy to hide his many real estate holdings from netizens.
A government official hiding multiple real estate property holdings uses “privacy” to stop Chinese netizens from investigating information on property holdings.

Guangzhou

Even Individuals Bearing the Owner’s Original Identification Card Cannot Look Up Number of Real Estate Holdings

This reporter learned that starting in early January, property inquiries in Guangzhou were becoming increasingly difficult, where once it was only necessary to provide the building’s address to make an inquiry, now it is necessary to have the specific building title/deed number, registration code, and provide relevant valid documentation in order to make an inquiry.

Many second-hand real estate agents and mortgage workers told this reporter yesterday that inquiries into property ownership information in Guangzhou became strict around January of this year. According to many real estate agents and mortgage workers, previously making an inquiry only required either the real estate’s title/deed number or the address, but beginning in January it became necessary to simultaneously provide the property’s title/deed number, address, registration code, etc. before it was possible to make an inquiry. Previously, possessing an person’s original identification card allowed one to look up the amount of property held in their name, but now only spouses can make inquiries with such documents. Previously, it was possible to make an inquiry by simply entering one’s ID number, now in principle it is required to provide the ID card itself to make an inquiry, and if you are unable to provide the original ID card, then it must be reviewed by multiple people before the inquiry can be made. “If it shows that someone has more than three pieces of property under their name, then it is necessary to go to the government affairs center to execute a written application, and only after gaining approval can one look up detailed information.

As it is understood, at present there are normally two types of property inquiries; one type is to inquire for information directly relating to the building itself, for example the building’s [square footage], validity period of property rights and title/deeds, and whether or not there is a mortgage. This kind of situation mostly involves buyers inquiring about property they wish to purchase. The second type of situation is checking the number of buildings/property under in an owner’s name, and their specific circumstances, etc. which came about after the limits on house purchases.

In the middle of October 2010, in order to comply with the government policy limiting purchases [of property, intended to cool down a hot real estate property market and rising housing prices], the Guangzhou Municipal Land Resources and Housing Administrative Bureau started the “Individual Property Holdings Inquiry Service” and “Family Member’s Property Holdings Verification Issuance Service” so that city residents qualified to purchase a homse can enjoy [special] loan interest rates for their first or second home, as well as confirming that they qualify to purchase a home, etc.

This reporter learned from the Guangzhou Municipal Land Resources and Housing Administrative Bureau that there are currently only four ways to look up information on real estate property under an individual’s name: The owner presenting valid identification; another person presenting the owner’s ID and a signed declaration of agency; [an applicant] bearing an official letter from public security authorities; or a spouse presenting valid identification inquiring about their spouse’s real estate holdings.

Since the occurrence of the “House Uncle/Aunt” incidents last October, inquiries into property information had for a time attracted no small amount of discussion from city residents. With regards to searches and inquiries becoming tougher, one person from the Guangzhou Department of Housing Management expressed that it was a necessity. “The House Uncle/Aunt incidents and inquiries becoming tougher have a definite connection, but it is not completely because of that.” Last night, an individual from the Guangzhou Housing Management Department said, “The biggest lesson the House Uncle/Aunt incidents taught us was that we absolutely must manage our own people [staff] better.”

The individual from the Guangzhou Housing Management Department expressed that the service had previously been provided with a focus on the real estate purchase limit policy, and had overlooked the individual privacy of city residents, so now they will focus more on protecting city residents’ personal privacy. They will be stricter with the internal management of the Housing Management Department, increase regulation of external inquiries into real-estate property information, operate by the book, requiring valid ID before an inquiry can be made. Reporter: Qiu Yongfen

A Chinese political cartoon showing a hand representing new regulations preventing an ordinary citizen from investigating property holdings through a person's name, thereby protecting "House Aunt" and "House Uncle", individuals who made the news in 2012 for seemingly owning amounts of property they seemingly shouldn't be able to afford.
Red Line: “Looking up property holdings by person”
Hand: “New Regulations”
Woman: House Aunt
Man: “I’m House Uncle!”

Shenzhen

Cannot Use Business Owner’s Name to Retrieve Property Information

When looking up property information, the [name of the] property owner may not be used to conduct the inquiry. More than half a year ago, the Urban Planning Land and Resources Commission of Shenzhen Municipality drafted the “Shenzhen Urban Planning Land, Real Estate, and Maritime Records Referencing Measures (Draft for Comment)”, simultaneously soliciting suggestions from society. According to this draft, the looking up of property information should comply with strict regulations. Even spouses looking up each other’s property information must provide documentation proving their relationship. As for [cases where] a staff worker in the department responsible [inappropriately] divulges a city resident’s property information, legal action may be pursued in severe cases. Yesterday, this Southern Metropolis Daily reporter learned that, currently, this draft is still in processing, and has not yet been officially implemented.

At the beginning of last year, Shenzhen police launched an operation with cracking down on illegal criminal invasion of citizens’ private information as its goal, arresting a total of 325 people and incarcerating 76. During the operation it was brought to light that property information sold by a criminal gang had originally come from someone inside the Shenzhen Land and Resources Department, causing a public uproar. Therefore, the “Shenzhen Urban Planning Land, Real Estate, and Maritime Records Referencing Measures (Draft for Comment)” tightened the management of property information.

The draft legislation stipulates applications to look up property rights and records (including those of maritime holdings and their contained structures, buildings and fixtures); [in addition to] the original registration document, [individuals] must provide the following documentation: registration form for looking up records, and proof of identity. If it is a staff worker of a government organ lawfully conducting official business that needs to look up land, real-estate, and maritime records, they must provide a work ID or proof of conducting official business. Also, representatives from arbitration and notary institutions who must look up land, real-estate, and maritime records to carry out arbitration or notary functions, must provide a work ID. Attorneys retained by clients who must look up land, real-estate, and maritime records during the provision of legal services must provide an attorney’s license. Property owner representatives [such as homeowners associations or property management companies] who must look up land, real-estate, and maritime records must provide identification or other identifying document issued by a public security organ, owner committee establishment documents and a letter of introduction.

What deserves attention is that this draft also clearly stipulates that the registration form for looking up records submitted by the inquirer should be clearly filled out with the real estate’s location (room number and location) or ownership certificate number, as well as the matter that is being inquired, and that the real-estate owner’s name may not be used as the criteria to conduct an inquiry. Spouses and family members looking up real-estate property records involving their spouse or other family members must submit a registration form for looking up records, the relevant proof of identity required, as well as provide documentation proving that they have a spousal or familial connection to the person whose real-estate information is being looked up.

Previously, in the 2001 “Shenzhen Urban Planning Land and Resources Bureau Records Checking Regulations”, regulations for making real estate inquiries were rougher, without the detailed regulations aforementioned. Currently, in actual operations, ordinary Shenzhen city residents can make inquiries about their own property information at the property management department with individual proof of identity, and with a marriage certificate they can make inquiries about their spouse’s property information. However, some agents going through special channels can use a person’s name to make an inquiry about holdings under that name.

A Chinese political cartoon showing a person trying to use inquiries into public records by name to investigate illegal income with a person across from him stopping him arguing that it infringes upon personal privacy and commercial secrets.
Left: “Must be public, transparent. Perhaps this way we
can expose a homeowner’s illegal income…”
Hat: Real Estate Property Information
Magnifying Glass: Inquiries By Name
Right: “This way will infringe upon personal privacy
and commercial secrets, no, no!”

Comments from NetEase:

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独行弥勒 [网易陕西省西安市网友]:

Who would be afraid of leaking the number of houses/buildings they own? Only those people who got their houses through dishonest means! Is this to protect them?

Don’t use the guise of protecting city residents to protect corruption!

a347956596 [网易广西柳州市网友]:

Houses one round, cars one round, how many rich people are left? Officials steal, robbers steal, how can we love the fucking party? Oil prices go up, food prices go up, and only [those in] state industries live well! Rice is expensive, meat is expensive, do I have to pay taxes on my farts too? The big are corrupt, the small are corrupt, and they’re corrupt all the way down to little security guards! You can’t live, you can’t die, government offices everywhere are all tied up! Talk is fake, actions are fake, are you all not afraid of being cut into mincemeat? Dad is a government official, son is a government official, even the mistresses of government officials are government officials!

[Note: The original Chinese text of this comment is like a rhyming poem.]

网易湖北省襄阳市网友: (responding to above)

Taiwan’s Lung Yingtai says: Don’t hope for an enlightened monarch, but instead strive for a system that can keep power caged. Don’t kneel for some fairweather official, but instead strive for a system that can hold supervise and hold government officials accountable. Don’t sing the praises of some great leader, but instead strive for a system where you can elect and impeach those in power. Don’t talk about support and thanks, but instead strive for a system where one can speak and move about freely. Don’t wait for some hero, every one of us is the strength to move walls!

A good system won’t demand that you support it, but instead educates you on how to defend your rights. A good system won’t tell you that it’s great, but instead tells you how to fight for your rights. A good system won’t demand your thanks, but instead tells you how to hold it accountable. A good system won’t demand that you praise it as wise, but instead tells you how to monitor it. A good system lets you shout criticisms, rather than thanking it for its kindness!

看着看着我就碉堡了 [网易广东省深圳市手机网友]:

No buried silver here [figuratively, protesting one’s innocence too much, inadvertently revealing what one intends to hide].

胡可磊我是 [网易德国网友]:

I actually want to let people check, it’s just a shame I can’t even afford a house.

网易江西省南昌市网友:

A teacher has students write an essay at home about the nation, the party, society and the people.
Little Ming doesn’t understand the connotations of these words, so he goes and asks his dad.
His dad tells him: “The nation is the biggest, just like your grandma. The party is the one with the most power, the leader of the family, just like me. Society is the one that works for the Party and the nation, and it has to listen to the Party, just like your mom. The people are the smallest, and whatever they say nobody will listen, just like you.”
After dinner, Little Ming wanted to write the essay, but he still didn’t really understand these things,
so he went to ask his grandma, but his grandma was already asleep.

Little Ming went to look for his dad, but dad and mom happened to be exercising in bed, and as soon as his dad saw him come in, he boxed his ears.
There was nothing Little Ming could do but wipe his tears and go back to his room and write his essay on his own.
The next day, his dad received a call from the teacher: “You must be Little Ming’s father?”
“Yes, what’s the matter?”
“It’s about Little Ming’s essay.”

“Was it written poorly?”
“No, it was written excellently, but I suspect he might not have written it himself…”
“What did he write?”

“Little Ming wrote: The nation is sleeping, the Party is playing with society, society is moaning, and the people are crying.”

天龙宫 [网易河南省三门峡市义马市网友]: (responding to above)

As long as it involves the interests of government officials, our country will immediately launch corrective measures. Those that involve the interests of the ordinary common people, unless something extreme appears, otherwise there won’t be any changes.

wfw9999 [网易山东省泰安市网友]: (responding to above)

I had hoped to see follow-up support from the central government and government officials exercising self-restraint, I never imagined it would be just the opposite, of government officials madly fighting back, with the central government’s words like a fart. What hope does our country have left?!

神耀天威 [网易广东省珠海市网友]: (responding to above)

Indeed, the counter-attacks by local government gorillas [phonetic pun with “officials”] are very direct, very penetrating, and very shameless!

网易湖南省郴州市网友: (responding to above)

Every time God opens a window, a corrupt official immediately blocks a door!

da铁 [网易北京市网友]:

It was unacceptable for an individual’s private information to be divulged in the first place, and since everybody advocates a sound legal system, the action of so casually divulging an private information is a serious criminal violation, and if you can’t even get this right, don’t ever bring up a sound legal system or whatever again in the future.

鸟毛之乡红太阳 [网易广西贵港市网友]: (responding to above)

Making some fenqing posts doesn’t represent how great you are, but instead makes people despise you. Our country is developing, it’s difficult to escape a windy path [a path that includes mistakes], everyone has to look at things correctly. You guys need to remember, as a member of society, if you yourself don’t respect your country, it shows that you don’t respect yourself, and then how can you make other people respect you? Remember, children don’t begrudge their mothers being ugly, dogs don’t begrudge their families being poor, don’t conduct yourself worse than a dog.
That everyone can go online and make comments shows that everyone has a certain knowledge and experience, and from this issue, it’s not difficult to see progress in our country’s legal system and the increase in media supervision [of government]! You all only know to blindly attack! Speaking all high and mighty, as if you guys are the most noble of character and sterling integrity.

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