Derelict buildings
Portugal literally has hundreds of thousands of vacant properties; an enormous number owned by the State

“Derelict buildings” to be identified via telecoms and utilities data

Government’s coercive measures will exclude homes of emigrés, holiday homes and those of diplomats

With many doubts over the workability of much of the government’s “Mais Habitação” (More Habitation) policy unveiled last week – some measures may not even be constitutional, argue critics – details are coming through on how certain aspects are expected to work, namely the ‘coercive leaseholding’ plan, where the State steps in to rent, and then sublet, vacant/ derelict properties.

As Lusa explained in one of its many texts outlining the government’s plans, State financing of municipalities “with low habitability conditions” to “carry out “coercive works in vacant houses is not new”, but local authorities rarely use the “current model” – hence today’s new focus among the many proposals in the “Mais Habitação” blueprint.

Correio da Manhã outlines how this area of the government’s policy is expected to work:

“The identification of vacant buildings will be done according to rules defined in decree-law nº 159/ 2006, of August 8, which refers to the absence of billing for the consumption of water, gas, electricity and telecommunications”.

According to what the paper has understood from ‘a government source’, “lack of simultaneously consumption of water, electricity and telecommunications will be considered strong indications that the property is not being used. But even after this classification, the owner will be able to contest the government’s claim (on the property) in court”.

As the paper concedes: “The situation of vacant buildings and the possibility that the government could force their rental has been one of the most contested measures of the package announced for the housing sector

“There are property owners who highlight the situation of homes owned by emigrés, which lie empty for the best part of every year – or dwellings that belong to several heirs in conflict” (and thus remain ‘empty’).

But decree-law nº 159/ 2006 caters for these eventualities. Says the paper: “Holiday homes, (those) belonging to emigrés or diplomats are excluded from this set of measures”.

And in the case of a property technically owned by a number of squabbling relatives, the ‘head of the (deceased) couple’ (meaning the closest relative to the last single owner, as per legal documentation) is entitled to define the destiny and use of the property.

Otherwise, CM suggests it will be up to individual municipal authorities to “identify vacant buildings” (this will also see authorities accepting that they too have been sitting on a large amount of potential rental stock…), while a “duty of cooperation” will be expected from telecoms and utility companies.

The paper adds that to be considered ‘vacant’ (devoluto) a property will have had to have stood unused for “at least one year”.

Meantime, the controversy the government’s measures have already generated sets certain to continue throughout the month of ‘public discussion’, with sources admitting proposals could well ‘change’ depending on how well, or not, they are received.

Certainly the efforts to rein in Alojamento Local appear focused on the argument that ‘tourism cannot survive without residents’, and therefore residents cannot be erased from areas that have suddenly become ‘popular’.

Expresso this week has carried a double-page spread on the effects of Alojamento Local in what are described as “small and poor municipalities”, like Aljezur and Vila do Bispo in the Algarve – where council leaders admit property prices now are even out of the range of ‘the middle classes’Marvão, Mourão, Grândola and Alcácer do Sal.

Specialists the paper has consulted alert to the “serious effects on populations” as “golden visas, foreign investment, tourism and second homes (…) risk the decharacterisation of small communities, aggravating social stratification and eroding trust in institutions”.

This kind of warning will have been behind the measure, within the Mais Habitação programme, to encourage owners of Alojamento Local to ‘switch’ their business model to the long-term rental market.

Any owner who moves from AL to long-term rentals by the end of 2024 will be exempt from income tax on rent received until 2030 as compensation for the reduction in revenue, the prime minister has explained. 

Property owners who nonetheless opt to remain within the AL sector will in future be required to pay a special levy.

As Mr Costa said last Thursday in the press conference outlining the new housing programme: “We shall create an extraordinary contribution on all properties that remain in ‘alojamento local”. He explained the revenue from this levy will go to the Institute of Housing and Urban Rehabilitation (IRHU) to finance housing

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