Septic tanks expose difference between law and reality in France

The tanks can reveal stark differences between French and British laws… and homeowners' attitudes towards them

Septic tanks are causing a lot of debate online, particularly among concerned Brits dealing with the sometimes complicated Gozzoli/Shutterstock rules

On websites and forums where Brits seek advice on renovating homes in France, the issue of septic tanks is a source of great concern.

For example, when buying a house a notary You can provide a form with one year's notice to ensure your Fosse meets strict standards.

Britons are often afraid of penalties for non-compliance, tend to take legal regulations literally and rush to replace their tanks.

In the French countryside, where most Septic the locals have a rather dubious view of law enforcement.

They would be horrified if an official showed up, inspected their old tank and gave the order to upgrade it.

This may mean digging up the old tank and installing a new one – which isn't cheap.

Nevertheless, the locals have a fairly relaxed attitude.

In many cases, they assume that officers aren't particularly punctual, so this will probably never happen to them, and they simply ignore the policy.

In any case, the inspector could be persuaded to turn a blind eye to the problem, with much shrugging and gasping for breath.

Of course, there is a possibility that the official will act sternly and insist that the old tank be removed and a new one installed in its place. However, most French homeowners in rural areas would estimate the probability of this to be one percent.

Read more: Can I install a septic tank myself in my second French home?

Emptying rules

You can also act similarly casually when emptying the tanks, where there are strict rules.

I was once advised to cut a hole in mine, which is illegal. A filter that covers the hole could hide it enough to never be discovered, it said.

So septic tanks are an example of the connection between the actual law, accompanied by a lot of propaganda, and its loose implementation in France.

Brits and Americans may find this shocking and hypocritical. We take the law seriously and literally, but the French know that their culture is a “conspiracy of rhetoric.”

Although the law may be formal and strict, it is rarely applied that way. It allows for a certain flexibility, which is summarized in the word “toleré”.

Of course there are exceptions. During the Corona crisis, exit restrictions, social distancing and mask-wearing were widely observed in France, but only when they were supported by a massive police presence and heavy fines.

For the French, the gap between what is on paper and what happens in practice is both inevitable and desirable, the margin necessary to get on with life.

It's probably common sense in context, but understanding it can be a life's work for many foreigners.

Read more: What are the rules for foreign septic tanks in France?

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