‘Illegal’ renters fight back

‘Illegal’ renters fight back

Hundreds of ‘illegal’ holiday renters are being hunted down by municipal police as the government’s plan to crack down on unregistered ‘alojamento local’ properties swings into overdrive. But will it work? The Resident talks this week with a small group of so-called illegal renters in the Lisbon area who claim the state’s money‑grabbing attitude will lead to disaster.
As little white postcards from the local department of municipal police are being sent out calling landlords in to ‘come clean’, our sources maintain people will either give up altogether – at a significant loss to the local economy – or go even further underground.
“Hundreds of people will lose their jobs: cleaners, gardeners, maintenance personnel,” they told us. “And as renters give up, holidaymakers will simply go elsewhere.
“The argument that these people will choose hotels is bogus. People who opt for ‘alojamento local’ (holiday apartments and villas) are looking for their own space – places where they can cook, enjoy the garden, swim on their own … They are not interested in hotels.”
“Simply calculating that half the 500 illegal renters in this area will give up means that communities around Lisbon would lose at least 500 holidaymakers every day! On the basis that two people spend a minimum of €20 per day (and let’s face it, people on holiday usually spend a lot more than that), you can see instantly how many thousands the area could lose at the height of the season.”

But what is the problem with ‘coming clean’ and registering for holiday rentals under the Alojamento Local rules, as the law requires?

In a word, the answer would seem to be “bureaucracy”. “If it was a simple matter, we would all register,” our sources – a mix of Portuguese and foreign residents – agreed. “But instead they make it impossible. Once you are in their net, they come after you for every little thing.
“Not only that,” affirmed one, a retired engineer, “this is a country where people have very little trust in the authorities. The system is corrupt, and therefore people see no reason to be anything different.”

What has this renter’s experience been?

“Unbelievable! This is why I have agreed to talk to you! I am 65 years old, I fought 13 years in a war for my country, I have never had so much as an overdue parking fine and yet I found myself the other day facing three policemen carrying guns – all because I was supposedly renting out rooms to holidaymakers!
“I have been made to feel like a criminal – hounded through the internet, and I now face a possible fine of between €500 and €2,000!
“One minute I received one of these little white postcards through the door, the next I received a summons demanding that I justify myself. The paper said I am now considered an ‘arguido’ (defendant) and there is a legal case against me.”
Even worse, this particular homeowner claims he was grilled over his property featuring on internet sites that he has never heard of.
“I have no idea how it got there. They were foreign sites – and there was a little film on Youtube – all nothing to do with me, but there I was facing those policemen with their guns.
“And then you imagine that I will want to go on renting? Of course I don’t!”
The story was much the same all round the table. The little group of people who had received their postcards calling them into the Câmara’s department of municipal police were all thinking of either giving up, selling up or radically rethinking retirement plans. Each one is over the age of 65, and all have seen their pensions targeted by the government’s austerity cuts over the last two years.
“This was a way of supplementing our incomes – but now we will have to find other alternatives,” they concluded.
One of the many demands of the Decreto-Lei nº39/2008 covering ‘alojamento local’ is that owners must have a habitation licence.
In a country where it can take years to get one, this clause alone stops hundreds of property owners from being able to operate legally.
“It should be easy to get a habitation licence,” they told us. “But it isn’t at all. It can take years – and lots of hidden expenses along the way.”
Stories range from people who discover clauses in their deeds which mean properties need licensing from other authorities (like the CCDR or Ministry of Agriculture) before they can be considered fully legal – and then there are “silly cases” where chimneys are found to be three centimetres off the village perimeter and thus habitation licences are impossible to obtain.
“I have already spent over €3,000 in the Câmara trying to legalise one of my cottages,” explained one of the renters. “But because of the chimney jutting out into agricultural land they are still dragging their heels. So far, this has taken nearly a decade.”
As the group agreed: “None of us have any idea where all this will lead. But it certainly won’t be a good place.”

About the Alojamento Local Law

The Decreto-Lei nº39/2008 demands that rental properties should be in ‘well maintained’ buildings, connected to mains water and drainage systems, have hot and cold running water, good ventilation, “adequate” furniture, equipment and utensils, a system that illuminates the entrance, and security doors ‘that guarantee users’ safety’.
All properties should have at least one bathroom, also with a ‘security system’ to guarantee privacy.
Owners should display a list of rules for their guests, as well as supply fire extinguishers and manuals, while properties must be available for periodic inspections by both the local borough council and ASAE, the food hygiene and economics authority.
One clause however leaves the must-do list wide open. It says “borough councils can demand installation and functioning requirements over and above those stipulated in the law”.