What is a septic tank?

Put simply, a septic tank is a chamber that is buried underground and stores your wastewater. 

They are commonly found in rural areas where properties are not connected to the main sewage grid.

There are specific regulations in place to ensure that a septic tank complies with environmental standards, and if you are buying a residential property which is connected to a septic tank, your solicitor will need to check whether it does so satisfactorily.

In addition, your solicitor will need to check that you have adequate legal rights to use the tank as it may not be in your own property boundary.

 How often does your septic tank need to be emptied?

This depends very much on the size of your septic tank, but you can expect to need to empty it every 1 to 3 years.

You will need a specialist registered waste carrier company to come and empty it for you. 

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General binding rules for septic tanks

 The Environment Agency has issued detailed guidance on how to meet the General Binding Rules if your septic tank releases wastewater into the ground.

Details of the rules can be found on the government website.

The rules apply depending on various factors, including when the release of waste into the ground started.

As of 2020, septic tanks must not be discharged to any type of waterway without treatment.

You may need a permit from the Environment Agency if the General Binding Rules are not satisfied. 

The seller will transfer the permit to the buyer on or before completion.

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Buying a property with a septic tank

If you are a buyer looking to purchase a property with a septic tank, your solicitor should raise specific enquiries to the seller’s solicitor about the tank.

They should obtain information such as whether it was in good working order when it was last emptied, how much it costs to maintain and proof of it being emptied at the intervals required.  

You need to be satisfied that the tank is suitable for use and meets current standards in accordance with the general binding rules because an unsuitable tank could reduce the value of your property, leave you with a hefty bill to replace or repair the tank, and even result in you being fined by the Environment Agency up to £100,000 for not meeting the standards.

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Selling a property with a septic tank

Legislation that came into force back in 2015 changed the rules for how this waste should be disposed of, designed to reduce the impact of sewerage on streams and rivers.

Obviously, no homeowner would want a defective septic tank leaking into or over their property, but the new rules state that your system must be compliant.

It is vital the legislation is followed and that your septic tank is up to the required standard or, as your buyer’s solicitor will be investigating, that it is fit for purpose and up to scratch.

If you are selling your property, the Environment Agency General Binding Rules state that you must replace your system with a compliant one before selling your home.  

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Does your home have the right to use the septic tank?

If you share a septic tank with neighbours, depending on whose land the tank is situated on, it may mean that you need additional legal rights for the use of services, including the septic tank.

Your solicitor will check whether those rights are included whilst carrying out title checks.

If no such rights are included, your solicitor may draft a deed of easement, giving you rights to use the septic tank, as well as rights to enter upon the land to inspect, replace, or maintain the tank.

Additionally, your solicitor will check whether there are any specific covenants or obligations that you might need to comply with regarding the maintenance of the septic tank.

This might mean that when you become the owner of the property, you may need to pay for the cost of the upkeep or servicing of the septic tank alongside your neighbours who also use the tank.

These additional cost considerations should be borne in mind before you commit to the purchase.

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