On March 4, Decree-Law 10/2024 of January 8 – SIMPLEX – came into force, promising to simplify town and country planning administration.

We know, and have long complained, that Portugal is a bureaucratic, formalistic, and, to some extent, dilatory country. These characteristics hamper the country’s competitiveness and naturally impact investment, both domestic and foreign. With this in mind, the previous Portuguese government prioritized the simplification of administrative activity through this law, which it called SIMPLEX.

As the name suggests, simplification is the watchword. Therefore, We should look at some of the changes that greatly simplify the administrative process, with a direct and serious impact on the public.

Creation of new cases of exemption from prior control:

Before this law entered into force, we found that some urban planning operations, although of little relevance, involved an administrative process. The administrators were obliged to take the proper (and time-consuming) steps in these processes for things as simple as carrying out work to restore the safety of the property.

SIMPLEX introduced new cases of exemption from prior control, i.e. exemption from licensing or prior communication. So if, for example, you are thinking of increasing the floors or floor area of your house to make better use of the space, without this operation involving increasing the height of the façade, you should know that you can now do so without the need for prior control by the Town Hall.

For this and other so-called simpler operations, you only need to notify the Town Hall of the start of the work and the person responsible for carrying it out.

Definition of maximum deadlines for decisions and provision for tacit approval:

One of the main criticisms levelled by administrators at the way administrative processes work is precisely the time the administration needs to carry out acts and make decisions.

In the licensing and prior notification processes, it can be seen that, despite being duly instructed, the administration does not deal with requests in good time, delaying the whole process and logically generating a great deal of inconvenience, increased costs and uncertainty in the lives of agents.

SIMPLEX is therefore concerned with clearly and objectively defining the deadlines for carrying out the acts due by the administration, establishing two deadlines that must be met, namely:

  • 30 days for assessment of architectural projects
  • 120 to 200 days for final decisions on licensing applications

The law even further stipulates that when these deadlines are not met, the administrator can resort to tacit approval. Tacit approval allows processes to go ahead without an express decision by the municipality. This approval will be certified by the Portuguese Agency for Administrative Simplification via a platform created for this purpose.

In this way, realistic and final deadlines are established for the administration’s actions, which must be met in the interests of all those involved, failing which, the tacit approval tool, will be used.

Clarification of the City Council’s powers of assessment and prohibition of unnecessary steps:

Under SIMPLEX, the City Council’s assessment powers have been significantly reduced. It is assumed that if there are terms of responsibility issued by the technicians associated with the work, there is no need for a second assessment by the City Council. If the technician has worked on the project, analyzed its development and attested to its conformity, it is now understood that there is no basis for someone who does not know the work in depth to doubt the technician’s attestation and carry out a second analysis that would considerably delay the conclusion of the processes.

Given the above, the City Council’s assessment powers are reduced to controlling the building’s insertion into the territory, i.e., compliance with urban plans, control of easements and restrictions of public utility, respect for the use of the property, and exterior aesthetics and insertion into the landscape. The town hall no longer controls the interior of the building, speciality projects, and other minor details.

At the same time, the practice of useless acts is prohibitedOnly then, processes were interrupted for such useless acts as attaching certificates or updated documents, which had lost their validity due to the length of the licensing processes. The situation was ridiculous to the point that the delay in the analysis of the process by the City Council led the individual to incur the costs of updating documents two or three times during the same process.

Thus, documents such as land registry certificates, insurance, certificates and term. 

Thus, documents such as land registry certificates, insurance certificates and technicians’ terms can no longer be requested because they have expired when they were initially and validly submitted.

Simplification of the procedure for using the property:

Have you ever heard of someone who has completed work on a property but can’t use it or sell it because they’re waiting for the use license to be issued? Incredibly, until this law came into force, some people could only use or sell it once the permit was issued, despite having completed the work on their property. In some cases, this took many months, if not years, damaging the habitability of the property already built without any apparent explanation and subjecting those who did so to heavy administrative offences and fines.

With SIMPLEX’s entry into force, Use Licenses will no longer be issued. Does this mean that the property can be used once the work has been completed? No, however, it will be a much simpler process and under the administrator’s control.

To use the property, all you have to do is submit a few documents signed by the construction manager or the construction supervision manager, prepared in accordance with current legislation, and pay the fees due on completion of the work. These documents and the payment, once received by the City Council, will also replace the use permit, which will no longer be issued in full.

This change consequently has an impact on the simplification of purchase and sale processessince it is no longer the responsibility of notaries to verify the license of use for the signing of a deed for the purchase and sale of real estate.

At this point, we believe we have explained some of the features of this administrative simplification scheme that will undoubtedly have an impact on the administrators.

Our team would like to point out that simplification and the idea of possibly less control cannot, and should not, jeopardize compliance by the administrators with the applicable legal and regulatory rules, namely those contained in the plans, public utility easements or restrictions, technical construction rules and rules for the protection of cultural heritage, and it should be noted that the City Council may become aware of irregularities and argue that the procedure is null and void within ten years of its conclusion.

Joana Neto Mestre | Jéssica Ramos | Beatriz de Sousa Bartolomeu


This article is generic and does not constitute, nor should it be interpreted as constituting, legal advice for a specific case, so its application to a given situation will always depend on a careful and considered legal analysis of all the circumstancescarried out by experts qualified for the purpose.