Unused real estate in Portugal: the State owns thousands of properties, but is focusing its coercive lease policy on 'commandeering' properties that are empty, privately owned and habitable...

Pressure builds on ‘owners of vacant properties in habitable condition’

Government pushes ‘coercive rental’ plans ahead of parliamentary approval

Pressure is building on owners of vacant homes in habitable condition ahead of the government’s ‘Mais Habitação’ (More Housing) blueprint being officially adopted.

The Socialists’ ‘coercive rental’ plan is one of the more controversial of the executive’s solution to Portugal’s housing crisis – and comes as citizens up and down the country are identifying THOUSANDS of properties in State ownership that have been left to abandon, in some cases for decades.

But the message relayed via State news agency Lusa is “owners of vacant properties in habitable condition have 100 days to use or rent them before the process of forced lease begins”.

To many, this reinforces the feeling that there is ‘one law for them, another law for the rest of society’. If the State has so many empty properties – among them apartment blocks – why doesn’t it refurbish them first before going after investments of the private sector?

Lusa however makes no reference to the millions of euros worth of real estate unused by the State. In a text published over the weekend, it simply refers to Article 15 of the government proposal which provides for ““properties for housing-use classified as vacant” under the law “may be subject to forced lease by municipalities, for subsequent sub-lease under public housing programmes“.

Again, this is a tad precipitous: the law has yet to be passed, and will need to go through parliament. None of this is made clear. Instead, the sense of pressure continues: “it is up to municipalities to present a lease proposal to the owner of the vacant house, who has 10 days to respond, says the draft legislation, published on www.consultalex.gov.pt”, writes Lusa.

In one respect, the news is at least giving owners a head’s up to ‘cover their backs’ should they not want the State to muscle in on their investment/s.

Lusa goes on: “After 90 days, and if the owner rejects the suggestion or does not respond and the property remains vacant, municipalities can then proceed “to the forced lease of the property, under the terms provided for” the Legal Regime of Urbanization and Building (RJUE), “with the necessary adaptations”.

The government proposal does not consider vacant, “as already announced, second homes, homes of emigrés or homes of people displaced for professional reasons, training or health“, says Lusa, “or those in which “duly authorized or communicated works are being carried out, during the periods defined for them, or the pendency of legal actions that prevent this use”.

According to article 15, if vacant properties are not habitable, “municipalities may compulsorily execute the works necessary to correct bad safety or health conditions, as well as habitability conditions”.

The proposal foresees that “compensation (is) carried out on account of the rents due”.

But clearly the government is focused on ‘the easiest solution” (seizing habitable properties), hence the coercive lease plan most likely to be “carried out on properties that meet habitability conditions that allow their immediate lease”.  

Lusa acknowledges that this is “one of the most controversial aspects” of the government’s housing package, roundly attacked by landlord associations and several political parties.

The “Mais Habitação” Programme provides, “among other measures, for more land to be made available for housing construction, incentives for construction by private individuals and tax incentives for owners to put houses on the rental market”, recalls the State news agency.

But the level of antagonism towards it shows no sign of abating. The proposal is under public consultation until the end of the week (March 10). Meantime the citizens’ social media page cataloguing the State’s profligate property management, insists it “constitutes a violation of the right to private property, when the Government itself is responsible for the state of the country, whether in justice, health, education or housing.

“The objective of this group will be to build a map/list of vacant state properties and make political power understand that, maybe, it doesn’t have such a serious problem with housing and that it doesn’t need populist and nonsensical measures that harm everyone!” 

It is unclear what may happen if the government brushes aside private owners’ misgivings. Certainly the Imóveis Devolutos do Estado Facebook page shows that many believe certain clauses of the Mais Habitação package could be ‘unconstitutional’. Thus the next step could involve legal challenges.

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