By Lisa Nommensen | JBA Young Lawyers Section
If you are buying a home, make sure you have a recent property survey and understand the ins and outs of septic tanks.
A homebuyer who recently bought in Empire Point had to learn the hard way the difficulty and expense of replacing the septic tank in her backyard.
In Florida, septic tanks are not governed by the usual city building permitting process, and know that you must obtain documentation from the local county health department for the septic tank installed on your property.
When bidding on a home, the buyer would normally pay the home inspection bill. Additionally, a home inspector is unlikely to be knowledgeable about septic tanks, and if your prospective new home has a septic tank, you’ll want to hire a dedicated septic tank inspection.
Why? Because the cost of replacing a failed or cracked sewage system can be around $10,000.
Picture this: the night before you close your new house, your almost new neighbor tells you that the septic tank was never serviced and they never saw anyone pump it out.
You thought your house was on the city sewer and you definitely didn’t have a septic tank. The property listing said the property was on municipal sewage, but it turns out you’re in a septic tank.
The next morning a company comes out and confirms that your septic tank is completely rotted and cracked.
First, thank your almost new neighbor. Second, call your real estate agent and continue negotiating how to pay for this major deficiency before closing the sale.
The problem in Florida regarding septic tanks compared to other states that have more regulations is that a seller is not required to clean their septic tank nor have an up-to-date inspection.
In Massachusetts, sellers must have them cleaned and the tank checked. If the check fails, the sellers must remedy the situation before they put the house on the market.
Also, after you bought your home and later found you needed to replace the septic tank, where would you check to see if it was inspected or when it was last serviced?
In Florida, septic tank inspections are voluntary. If your system is found to be substandard, the Health Department will not receive a copy of the report and no enforcement action will be taken.
This lack of oversight allows sellers to sweep their failed inspection under the rug, and there are no records or paper trails for a buyer to verify.
In a state surrounded by water and where there is a risk of cracked, failed septic tanks leaking into surrounding water bodies, why aren’t Florida septic tanks regulated?
With the cost of a new homebuyer in the five figures, regulations like the one in Massachusetts appear to be the bare minimum to prevent potential buyers from real estate nightmares and provide a way to avoid environmental mishaps.
Lisa Nommensen is a litigator at Nooney, Roberts, Hewett & Nowicki, specializing in personal injury litigation.
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