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Permission to build a fence

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(@jan55)
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Joined: 4 weeks ago

Hello,

I'm planning to move to Portugal with my family by the end of this year. We've looked up some properties online that we'd like to visit in person once we arrive. We're looking for an off-grid spot in a forest, or very close to a forest. One thing that's been bugging me is that so far I couldn't find a definite info about a permission to build a fence in Portugal, and all the restrictions that could possibly apply. We want to have animals on the land so it's neccessary for us to fence it. We're from Slovakia and here if you want to build a fence in an urban area, you don't need a permission, but you still need to give a notice to the municipal office. If you want to build a fence in a unincorporated area, like in a forest or a meadow, it's much more difficult. You have to ask for the planning permission, than it has to go through a regional bureau and they have to deem it non-desruptive for the wildlife and possibly also hunting purpuses etc. You also have to get the property reclassified first, which is a complicated proccess and there is no guarantee really, that all this effort will pay off. So in other words, even though you own a part of a forest here in Slovakia, you probably won't be able to fence it without giving a really good reason. So my question is - are there any restrictions like this in Portugal? Do I need to do any bureaucracy whatsoever before I start building a fence (1,8m high). Is it different if the property I want to fence is part of a forest? It's crucial for me to know, because this will decide what type of a property I'll be looking for. I don't want to buy a land, that I won't be able to fence.

I'd be grateful for any advice

Jan

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Posts: 18
 Vera
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(@crad)
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Joined: 5 months ago

Hi Jan,

It depends on the municipality and land category; ecological, agricultural, or other. Typically, a light fence such as a timber posts fence is not a problem, however, is gets very difficult if you want to put up a wall. 

Regards,

Vera

 

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Community Member
(@jan55)
Joined: 4 weeks ago

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Posts: 4

@crad Thank you for the reply. We want just a simple fence like timber posts or mesh fencing. In regards to the land category, is there a definite rule or something? Do I always need a permission if the land is classified as ecological? If the land is classified as agricultural, can I build a fence there without saying anything to anyone?

I heard that municipalities in Portugal sometimes decide differently on similar cases, but how should I go about this in my case then. I'd like to know what can I do with my property before I buy it. Most of the properties we looked up so far were inland rural articles. Should I ask at the municipal office before I buy anything?

Best regards

Jan

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 Vera
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(@crad)
Joined: 5 months ago

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Posts: 18

@jan55 I'm happy to be helping. There are no definite rules. You almost always need to inform the council, agricultural or ecological. When informing the council, if you cover the points Thomas has outlined below (inform the neighbour(s), rights of access, type of fence), you'll be fine. 

I think the best way to go about this is, as you mentioned, to talk to the council before buying.

Regards,

Vera

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Ask our Expat Consultant
(@thomasribatejo)
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Joined: 5 years ago

As Vera mentions, it's unlikely to be helpful to make generalisations. As with so many of these things, the interpretation varies by municipality, even where the law appears clear.

The following are based on our recent experience, but should not be assumed to be gospel in any other locations:

It is advisable, first, to ensure your boundaries are not in doubt (to you or neighbours). In some cases, a topographical survey may be required.

Then, if you intend to place whatever enclosure on the boundary, it is sensible to inform your neighbour(s) - and check there are no reasonable objections. The local authority may ask whether this has happened. They will almost certainly not want to intervene in the event of a dispute.

(Placing a fence away from the boundary is generally not a good idea, as it can lead to a future lack of clarity about boundaries).

Many local authorities will be fine with fencing, including quite permanent metal into concrete footings types, without permission; but not all are, and many will expect notification of the works 10 days in advance if there is a permanent structure involved.

As mentioned, walls require "more", and so it would be best to speak to the câmara up front. (I know you indicated that was not the plan here.)

You should also check before purchase about rights of access across the land, which may not always be obvious, perhaps due to not currently being used. For instance, we have recently surveyed a plot which can only be accessed across another's agricultural land - but as no-one has accessed the plot for years, there's no visible sign. The right of access exists, but could easily be missed. 

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Community Member
(@jan55)
Joined: 4 weeks ago

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Posts: 4

@thomasribatejo Thank you very much for the response. I really appreciate it.

In regards to the informing of the neighbours- I assume it should be a written notice, considering I may have to provide some evidence to the local authority, that this has happened. I guess there is no standardized norm on how exactly should this notice look like. Could I for example ask the neighbours to sign a simple letter stating that they have no objections on my plan to build a fence on the border? Or could I just send a notice to their address and wait a week or two if they respond or not? If they don't respond, would this be also enough?

What if my neighbour happens to be a state owned forest? Would it be somehow different in this scenario?

I guess the only way to do it without any uncertainity would be to ask the câmara what exactly do they require before purchase.

Could you also elaborate a little more about the rights of access and the laws and custums that apply in Portugal? I hope I understand correctly, that the plot you recently surveyed can only be accessed by another's agricultural land, because the location and surrounding terrain doesn't allow access from any other way. Should the right of access be mentioned somewhere in the sale contract or perhaps land registry? Where should I look for it? How big of a problem is it for me, if there is no right of access? Would I have to go to court to establish it?

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(@thomasribatejo)
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Posted by: @jan55

I assume it should be a written notice, considering I may have to provide some evidence to the local authority

Ideally, yes - but bear in mind the potential for your neighbours to be wary of officialdom, and/or unfamiliar with technical language (including in Portuguese).  I'd ask the câmara, as part of your approach to them, what they would need/want.

Posted by: @jan55

What if my neighbour happens to be a state owned forest?

There will be an agency with responsibility, and someone working for them with some relevant responsibility.  It's likely that, at some key entrance, there's some kind of sign which can help with the detective work - otherwise, theoretically the freguesia or câmara should be able to point you in the right general direction.

Posted by: @jan55

Could you also elaborate a little more about the rights of access and the laws and custums that apply in Portugal?

This is, I'm afraid, rather more than a simple forum post response!  I think if you get serious about a property, you should rapidly (and ideally pre-promissory) get your lawyer (and you really must use one) to check all of the things which could apply in the specific case.  It's what they're there for.

Posted by: @jan55

I hope I understand correctly, that the plot you recently surveyed can only be accessed by another's agricultural land, because the location and surrounding terrain doesn't allow access from any other way.

Correct, it's not unusual in rural locations for this to happen.  The plot in question was entirely surrounded by one other single agricultural title - a rather extreme, but real, example.  The gate to the "inner" property was private; both owners had keys to the "outer" road gate, with an agreed/accepted route to get from road to "inner" property.

Posted by: @jan55

Should the right of access be mentioned somewhere in the sale contract or perhaps land registry?

Again, this is where the lawyer is key, to establish and formalise sufficiently whatever is required.  Land registry is more formalised in parts of the country than others - so don't count on it being clearly identified there.  You would not want to buy a land with access limitations, I would suggest, without formal written agreement regarding access.  Do not assume sellers/agents know/are telling you the right thing - we've often heard "I am sure the owner [of adjacent plot] would agree to [insert thing buyer wants]" - I wouldn't bank on that!

Posted by: @jan55

Where should I look for it? How big of a problem is it for me, if there is no right of access? Would I have to go to court to establish it?

At risk of banging on about it, this is what the lawyer is for.  Get a good (which does not necessarily equal expensive) lawyer with relevant experience of rustic/agricultural land transactions.  Of course, don't have them spend time on a long list - but if you get to being serious about a property, use them to investigate all of the possible issues (rights of preference, boundaries, access, etc).  Sorting any of this once you've signed on the dotted line could be much harder, and it may affect your use or future sale of the property.

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Community Member
(@jan55)
Joined: 4 weeks ago

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Posts: 4

@thomasribatejo Thanks again. The whole proccess seems much clearer now. Sorry for so many complex questions. Sometimes it's hard to find a good info, which is very needed when moving abroad. 

I still do have one last question though- Are there any guarantees that my lawyer will tell me everything? What if the lawyer is negligent and overlooks something? What if he tells me everything is okay with boundaries or access for example, and then I'll find out it's not. Do lawyers have any rensponsibility with these things? I just don't like the feeling where my only guarantee for this is someones word.

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(@thomasribatejo)
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Joined: 5 years ago
Posted by: @jan55

Are there any guarantees that my lawyer will tell me everything?

If the lawyer is independent of the sellers, their agents, or anyone else with an interest in the sale; and if they are experienced, and you are clear with them what you need/want to know and to do, they should look into this for you; and they can access more, more easily, than other professionals.  (It can take some time, depending - and of course, August is the worst time to get rapid responses to anything.)

I would put your questions in writing to the lawyer, emphasising the importance of unequivocal responses.  There is professional liability (I don't know the ins and outs, to be honest), but Portugal is not a particularly litigious place, with processes taking time, and compensation being low.

Do not be satisfied, therefore, with "fuzzy" answers; and try to get relevant information in writing, with related documents etc.

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