Homeowners take a stand against “illegal” water charges

Homeowners in small developments around Vale do Lobo have turned the tables on Infralobo, the municipal company that last year began to charge what they described as “disproportionate and unfair” water charges that in many cases upped bills by hundreds of euros.

After months of trying to get the courts on their side, the residents from Vale do Garrão, Quinta Jacintina and Vilas Alvas decided to take matters into their own hands and simply stop paying all the extra charges that Infralobo demanded, paying only for the amount of water they use.

Says their lawyer José Campos Rodrigues, “the extra water charges included in Infralobo’s bills are illegal”.

For example, one of the extra taxes is a ‘bed’ tax, which charges “around €13” for each bed in every room. As Infralobo considers that each room has two beds, the tax has accounted for around €100 extra every month for residents who own a house with more than three rooms.

But according to Campos Rodrigues, homeowners are only obliged to pay “the amount of water they use”.

Dozens of residents have informed Infralobo and other entities that they have only paid the amount of water they used and, according to the lawyer, Infralobo has had no choice but to accept the partial payments.

“Now it is up to Infralobo to prove in court that the extra fees it wants to charge are legal – which they are not,” Campos Rodrigues told us.

“The law is clear and has to be respected – no matter how much it affects municipal finances,” he stated.

The water wrangle started last March when homeowners received a letter informing them of water hikes that would begin in April. If the residents failed to pay, they would be “cut off” from the water supply altogether (see https://www.portugalresident.com/water-wars-in-vale-do-lobo).

Infralobo claimed the charges were all to fund the water-guzzling gardens in the area’s plushest developments, although residents said that most of their homes do not have gardens.

The case even made it to Loulé’s administrative court, which decided in December that the case had to be handed over to the judicial court.

Infralobo has always refused to comment, while the national water regulating authority (ERSAR) has told national press that it is against the water charges and that it doubts the validity of some of the contracts signed between Infralobo and the local council.

Meanwhile, Loulé mayor Vítor Aleixo has guaranteed that the charges will be “revised” and “adapted to ERSAR’s recommendations”.

By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]