Letter of the Law in Fine Print

I’ve got to give the Portuguese credit: Most of their laws are for the greater good of us all, even if increasing bureaucracy results from their administration.

In August, the Food and Economic Safety Authority (ASAE) carried out a national operation aimed at the services provided by tourist and local accommodation establishments, monitoring compliance with the general operation rules and the specific rules in the context of the pandemic prevention.

With 297 operators inspected, the main infractions were a lack of or out of date outdoor identification plaques displayed with the establishment’s classification; lack of the complaints book in the electronic format; and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas. Compliance with the COVID digital certificate or negative test of 2,227 customers was also verified, but no irregularities were detected.

A temporary suspension of two—not even 1%–establishments resulted, due to the lack of (or out of date) outdoor identification plaques displaying the establishment’s classification, and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas.

Anyway …

Yesterday, I was reading the most recent issue of AFPOP’s Update newsletter. For those unfamiliar with AFPOP, the acronym originally stood for the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal; now, to better reflect the members it represents, AFPOP’s name has been changed to Association of Foreign Residents and Visitors. Among its benefits are the newsletter and, in partnership with its insurance broker (Medal) and insurance underwriter (Allianz), probably the most comprehensive health care coverage at the lowest prices … especially for the “senior citizens” among us.

While skimming the pages of the August (2021) Update, I came across four briefs dealing with new and existing laws in Portugal:

● Ever experience difficulty in reading the small print—especially on contracts? As of 25 August, that all changed: “[S]mall print and tiny spacing between lines are expressly prohibited in contracts with general contractual clauses, previously signed by organisations ranging from banks and insurance companies to gyms, telecom companies, and energy suppliers.”

Now prohibited are clauses written with smaller than 11 point (or 2.5 mm) font size and spacing less than 1.15 lines.

Of course, it’s not just the size of the font that prevents a better understanding of the contract. So, the law also establishes a control system to prevent what is referred to as “abusive clauses” in the wording of the contract which, itself, causes problems, “sometimes written with such technical complexity that the consumer has serious difficulties in understanding what they are reading, for example regarding clauses on early termination of contracts or loyalty periods,” notes AFPOP.

No more free shopping bags—whatever the material—came into force on 1 July this year. Part of a larger ban on the sale of all single-use plastics encouraging consumers to reduce the use of disposable and waste products, shoppers will now have to pay for their packaging … at prices set by the trader.

To prevent forest fires, any outdoor fires (including bonfires), launching rockets or fire-induced hot air balloons are forbidden when the Secretary of State for Forests declares a “critical period” for fires. It’s also mandatory to clear vegetation, cut trees and mow tall grasses around your property. If you don’t do it before 15 March, you could be fined a lot. In 2018, fines ranged from 140 to 5,000 euros in the case of individuals and from 1,500 to 60,000 euros for corporations. More recently, fines have been doubled!

Traveling in a motor home offers some freedoms, but you need to be aware of the rules and restrictions—especially as regards where parking overnight is—and isn’t—allowed. Since January this year, staying overnight in motorhomes isn’t permitted in nature reserves (except where expressly designated). In the rest of the country, except for places clearly approved for overnight stays (for which there’s no time limit), you can park in the same municipality for a maximum of 48 hours. As of 1 January 2021, the bill could be huge for parking in the wrong places: Non-compliance with this new regulation can be penalized with a fine of 60 to 300 euros—or more.

Actually, there are lots of laws and associated fines for violating Portugal’s decrees about vehicles … whether parking or driving …

Speeding fines are charged on a sliding scale depending on how far above the limit you are driving. For example, if you’re between 30 and 60km/h over the speed limit on a rural road, you could face a fine of up to €600. But if you’re going between 60 and 80km/h above the limit, the fine could be as high as €1,500.

Speed limits in the country are set in accordance with the “character” of the area within which the vehicle moves. Hence, in “built-up” areas, the speed limit is 50km/h; on rural roads, it’s 90km/h; and, for motorways, it’s between 50-120km/h.

Which means it is illegal to drive on motorways at a speed of less than 50km/h, or a fine can be imposed!

The legal blood/alcohol limit for driving when drinking in Portugal is under 0.5g/l (grams of alcohol per liter of blood) for all drivers. Those tested and found within between 0.5 and 0.8g/l face fines of between €250 and €1,250—along with license suspension between one month and one year.

Portuguese citizens can own firearms for hunting, target shooting, pest control and collecting. There’s no Second Amendment clause allowing for “well-regulated militias,” nor is self-defense considered a legal reason for owning a firearm. Legally, only licensed gun owners can lawfully acquire, possess, and/or transfer a firearm or ammunition. Portugal’s gun law also limits the number of firearms each person can have at home.

To gain a gun license in Portugal, one must be over 18-years-old and pass a background check which considers both criminal and mental health records. The person is also required to interview undergo thorough police scrutiny. The police have final say in whether to issue or reject a Firearms Owner License (FOL), which must be renewed every five years. Failure to renew may result not only in revocation of a license, but confiscation of all guns.

People in Portugal aren’t the only ones subject to rules and regulations. Even pets (theoretically) are protected under Portuguese law.

According to current legislation, it is now mandatory to register pets in the Pet Information System (Sistema de Informaço de Animais de Companhia—SIAC). Registration fee per pet is 2.50 euros and is compulsory for all animals born in or present on Portuguese territory for a period of 120 days or more. Pet owners who don’t comply face fines of no less than 50 euros … which can reach €3,740 for private persons and €44,890 if you represent an enterprise.

What’s more, as of 21 August, prison sentences have been toughened for those who mistreat or kill pets in Portugal.

Killing pets “without a legitimate reason” in this country may now imply prison sentences of between six months and two years, or imprisonment corresponding to 60-240 days. Sentences can be even heavier if there is “perversity” in the act. This toughening of sentences is the result of a change to the law that condemns the mistreatment of pets passed in 2014.

While some expats and immigrants can afford to shrug off these stiff financial fines and/or imprisonments, the majority of the population–Portuguese people—cannot.

Perhaps that’s among the reasons why Portugal consistently ranks among the top five most welcoming and peaceful countries in the world, as well as one of the most tranquil and beautiful destinations to visit or live.

Maybe if more countries put stronger teeth in their own laws and enforcement, violence and illegal activities would be reduced … and societies would become more civil.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current issue and subscribe to future ones at no cost at our website: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. And follow Portugal Living Magazine’s daily posts, news, briefs, and photos at www.facebook.com/PortugalLivingMagazine.

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