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Selling or Buying a Property with a Septic Tank?

Napthens - February 28th 2017

Although septic tanks are less common these days, if you have a client who is buying or selling a property with a septic tank, small sewage treatment plant or a cess pool, there are certain things they should be aware of and the earlier this is addressed the better. It is also important that both buyers and sellers understand the differences between the systems:

Septic Tanks are underground tanks where solids sink to the bottom forming sludge and the liquid flows into a drainage field where bacteria treats it as it soaks into the ground. They’re not allowed to discharge into a watercourse.

Small Sewage Treatment Plants work in a similar way but use mechanical parts to aerate the bacteria, which makes them more effective at treating waste water and means they can discharge treated sewage into a drainage field or directly into flowing water.

Cess Pools are different because the raw sewage is stored in a sealed tank, rather than being treated and discharged, which means they are not covered by the general binding rules. They must be emptied when full and must not be allowed to overflow or leak.

What sellers should be aware of:

Sellers are under a legal obligation to inform buyers in writing whether the property is served by a septic tank, where the tank is located and what the maintenance requirements are. Although a buyers water and drainage search will reveal whether the property is connected to foul water drainage and the question surrounding septic tanks is requested in the standard property information form, matters can be expedited by obtaining the information below as soon as possible.

Whilst it is no longer a necessity to have the system registered with the environment agency, people who own properties served by a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant are responsible for ensuring that the system meets the legal requirements, these are called “general binding rules.”

What information should be obtained?

  • Does the seller have a septic tank, cess pool or small sewage treatment plant?
  • Where is this located?
  • If applicable, where are discharges made?
  • Is it registered?
  • When it was last emptied?
  • What was the cost of emptying?
  • What is the capacity?
  • How old is it and what condition is it in?
  • If a new system has been installed do you have planning permission and building regulations approval?
  • Has it had any maintenance and is there any paperwork in relation to this?

What buyers need to be aware of:

  • Whether the property is served by a septic tank, small sewage treatment plant or a cess pool and the differences between them.
  • The costs for emptying and maintaining the septic tank, small sewage treatment plant or a cess pool.
  • The frequency the system will need emptying.
  • The general binding rules.

Potential buy to let investors should also be aware that if they purchase a property served by a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant then they become the “operator” and it is they that will be responsible for abiding by the general binding rules not the tenant.

Any concerns? Just ask!

If you need any guidance or further information on this subject , please do not hesitate to speak to a member of Napthens’ conveyancing team.