Properties With A Septic Tank

Buying a property with a septic tank? Here’s what you need to consider, explains Sally Calvert, a residential conveyancing expert from Napthens, who shares some practical tips for homeowners with a septic tank

When buying a property, it is essential to establish if it is connected to the mains sewer. If searches reveal the house is not connected, it is likely your sewerage will go to a septic tank. A septic tank is in effect an underground tank where solids sink to the bottom and liquid flows out and soaks through the ground – usually through a soakaway or infiltration system.

In 2020 the General Binding Rules (GBR) came into force. The GBR specify conditions septic tanks must meet in order to be used without an environmental permit. Key points:

• Discharge must not cause pollution of surface water or groundwater
• You cannot use a septic tank to discharge to surface water ie river or stream
• The system must comply with the relevant British standard in force at the time of installation and be operated according to manufacturer’s specifications.

Maintenance must be undertaken by a competent person and waste sludge safely disposed of by an authorised person.

If you are buying a property with a septic tank which discharges directly to surface water, we suggest you negotiate with the seller who will have responsibility for the replacement or upgrade of the existing treatment system. Once you take ownership you will be responsible for complying with the GBR – so either make sure the current owner fixes any problems as a condition of sale, or possibly negotiate a price accounting for any system upgrade required when you take over. Also, consider whether it will be necessary to obtain planning and building regulations approval for the works.

Failure to comply with the GBR could result in a fine of up to £100,000 so it is vital to ensure you are meeting these regulatory requirements.

If your property has a septic tank, here are some tips to help you keep on top of potential issues before they arise:
• Speak to the Environment Agency before installing a new system to check if a permit is required
• Carefully read your permit – this lists the requirements you must meet
• You must appoint a registered waste carrier to empty your septic tank annually
• Inspect the area where your septic tank releases sewage monthly
• Look for signs the system may not be working correctly eg unusual smells or water that is not usually there
• If your sewage flows into water keep an eye out for tell-tale signs eg sludge or scum on the water
• When selling the property inform the buyer in writing if there is a septic tank including details of location, condition and maintenance requirements
• Keep a record of everything you have done to your tank including any issues and any documents to offer as evidence of your proactive maintenance approach.

Sally Calvert is a Senior Associate, Legal Executive with Napthens’ Conveyancing team



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