Hundreds of expats in Portugal are being urged to check their property rights under new rules that could see them lose their homes or face a hefty bill for years of land tax.
The law, designed to protect coastal areas, riverside and lake locations, also affects people with holiday homes in the country, specifically homes built after 1951.
Homeowners need to be able to prove that their home was built on private land, as a new water resources law gives the government the power to take back any land which was originally owned by the state.
Home owners face uncertainty while they wait to find out if they are affected by the new law. At worst, they face having the property confiscated, while the best case scenario is a hefty fine.
A government spokesman claimed the policy was important for the country’s environment and not a land grab. ‘The law was designed to preserve coastal, river and reservoir areas from over-development. It is within European Union law,’ he said.
He explained that the law affects properties built with 50 metres of the Atlantic Ocean or within 30 metres of any inland rivers, canals or lakes. The rules are to curb illegal building that breaks environmental rules and spoils the landscape.
He explained that the rules have already been relaxed. For example, the original proposal was to seek proof of ownership for the last 150 years, but this was changed to only property built since 1951 due to legal protests.
However, this still means many expats and second home owners could be affected, as the modern resorts and estates which have become enclaves for expats were built quite recently and developers have not necessarily handed over paperwork proving ownership.
Until the situation is sorted out, it could also affect the sale of properties on waterside locations. Homeowners point out that it is also difficult to prove ownership of older properties which have been passed down from family member to family member.
Olinda Magellan from the law firm JPAguiar Branco said that owners will have to abide by the law that exists and provide proof of ownership in court.
‘The question of legitimate ownership will arise, especially in cases where there is a proposed property transaction, whether a sale, a gift or an inheritance. In practice, in the absence of proof the owner cannot dispose freely of the property,’ explained Magellan.