Can you Buy a House if you are Collecting SSI Disability?

"I know a person who has been on disability over 20 years, she received a large settlement, used the money to buy land and build a house. She has been collecting SSI. Is this legal?"

Disability benefits that are awarded under either the Social Security Disability or SSI disability program are meant to compensate for the fact that a recipient is no longer able to engage in work activity (past work or other work) at a substantial and gainful level. Obviously, if an individual could work and earn at least the SGA amount for a given year, they would be using that money to provide for their food and shelter needs.

Your question seems to be focusing on the fact that the individual received a large back pay amount. Back payments are simply awarded based on when a person filed for disability benefits, when their medical onset was established (EOD, or established onset of disability), and, then, how long their claim dragged on as a result of case processing and, most likely, multiple appeals. The process of attempting to win disability benefits can easily take years.

In this case, of course, if it is purely SSI disability only, there would be no other considerations such as the five month waiting period, or the two year waiting period for medicare (SSI recipients receive medicaid not medicare).

Now, how this individual chooses to use their back payment money may turn out be no different from how they use their monthly ongoing benefits. And, if their back pay amount is large enough, some might consider it wholly prudent to put the money toward securing a permanent residence.

Would real property count against an SSI disability recipient since SSI bars recipients from having more than $2000 in assets. Not in this case, if the property will be the primary residence of the individual. That would also be true for the recipient's primary automobile as well.

Everyone once in a while I come across a question like this and I have to wonder if the submitter really believes that a person on disability should not be allowed to own a home. In this case, what should the individual be compelled to do according to the opinions of others? Rent an apartment instead of own?

If the back pay is enough to secure a home of some type (which, for all I know, could be manufactured housing on a very small plot of land), would it not make more sense to buy? It would certainly be a way of avoiding rent, which, in many people's eyes, is just throwing money away on something you never own or have principal rights to.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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