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HouseWorth
© GetAgent Limited 2024
  1. Blog
  2. Selling a house with a septic tank
House selling tips
14 November 2022

Selling a house with a septic tank

Fatima Bukhari
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. What is a septic tank?
  2. 2. Can you sell a house with a septic tank?
  3. 3. What are the General Binding Rules (GBR)?
  4. 4. GBR - Key points
  5. 5. Things to consider when selling a house with a septic tank
  6. 6. Why is it important to maintain your septic tank?
  7. 7. What information should you provide the buyer with?
  8. 8. What is the Homebuyers Drainage Survey?
  9. 9. Is it illegal to sell a house with a non-compliant septic tank?
  10. 10. Enforcement laws against non-compliant septic tanks
  11. 11. What to do if your septic tank does not comply with the GBR
  12. 12. What is a Sewage Treatment Plant?
  13. 13. Who is responsible for a septic tank?
  14. 14. Summary: Maintaining your septic tank is key

A house with a septic tank is more common than you may think - over half a million homes across the country have one. If your home is more than 50 metres from the main sewer, there's a possibility that you have a septic tank on the grounds.

You might be surprised to know that selling your home with a septic tank is no problem at all. As long as rules and regulations are followed, the process should be smooth sailing.

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is an underground water tank that holds household waste and sewage when a property is not connected to the main sewer system. This system is the most common in rural properties where there are no pipes connected to the mains.

Septic tanks manage all of the wastewater from your home, including waste from the baths, sinks, showers, kitchens and toilets. Numerous septic tanks drain into ditches, rivers, tidal waters and drainage fields.

What is a drainage field?

A drainage field is a subsurface wastewater treatment facility used to eliminate contaminants and pollution from the sewage that emerges from a septic tank.

Can you sell a house with a septic tank?

Yes, you can sell a house with a septic tank, however, it is important to follow the regulations and General Binding Rules (GBR) set by the Environment Agency (EA). This is to ensure that the local habitat and environment are not polluted by wastewater from the septic tank.

To ensure you are following regulations it is recommended that you have your septic tank emptied once a year. However, if you do live alone or have a smaller household, then you can empty the tank bi-annually.

What are the General Binding Rules (GBR)?

GBR outlines the conditions that septic tanks must meet for use without environmental authorisation. You will not need a permit if your septic tank meets all of the General Binding Rules that apply to you.

The GBR are set in place to prevent wastewater from your septic tank polluting surface water.

GBR - Key points

  • The discharge of waste must not cause pollution of both surface and groundwater.
  • The septic system must comply with the pertinent British standard.
  • Waste must be safely disposed of by an authorised individual.
  • You need a small sewage treatment plant to discharge any wastewater into surface water.
  • You are allowed to discharge wastewater to the ground up to 2 cubic metres per day.
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Things to consider when selling a house with a septic tank

There is not much you can do when it comes to having a septic tank, but take precautionary actions, and ensure an environmentally friendly system is in place.

Before you sell your property it is important to disclose any drainage system details regarding the tank. For example, if you currently have a septic tank that discharges to surface water, then it would be beneficial for you to address this with the buyer. You do not want any issues to come up further down the line in your selling process.

A future buyer may require upgrade works before the completion of a sale. They may also ask for a price reduction if they have to carry out work themselves after purchasing the property. During the conveyancing process, this should all be discussed to make sure the suitable requirements are written in the contract.

Although septic tanks do not need to keep records of maintenance, it is required for the operator to provide a written notice and description of both the wastewater and septic tank system and its maintenance requirements.

Why is it important to maintain your septic tank?

If your septic tank is outdated or faulty, the value of your home can significantly decrease. Therefore, it is the duty of the seller to ensure an updated and maintained septic system. This is to guarantee a profitable and problem-free sale as well as an environmentally friendly one.

What information should you provide the buyer with?

You should provide any future buyers with detailed information about the septic tank.

For example:

  • Where the septic tank is located
  • A description of the associated drainage system
  • What kind of maintenance the system needs
  • The age of the system
  • The date on which it was last emptied
  • Records of changes and repairs

If a buyer is unaware of what the septic system entails, it is vital to get professional advice. You can use the Homebuyers Drainage Survey to educate the buyer and get the system assessed. The survey outlines the condition and identifies any needed repairs or maintenance.

What is the Homebuyers Drainage Survey?

A Homebuyers Drainage Survey consists of inserting a camera into the drain to evaluate its condition, depth and direction. By doing this you can ensure the system meets all existing regulations and also recognise any problems or damage.

For a Homebuyers Drainage Survey to be carried out, the tank needs to be emptied for the surveyor to inspect the interior with a clear view. The buyer also needs to check the tank to make sure that it complies with the septic tank regulations.

Because a standard building survey does not assess the septic tank, a Homebuyers Drainage Survey is essential.

Is it illegal to sell a house with a non-compliant septic tank?

It isn’t illegal to sell a house with a non-compliant septic tank, however, it’s the operator and homeowners' responsibility to make sure the tank is maintained up to the standard of both the EA and the GBR.

New laws were made in January 2020 where it became illegal for any septic tank in England to discharge sewage directly into a watercourse including a river, stream or pond. If this is the case then the tank should immediately be replaced or upgraded.

Homeowners are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their septic tanks. The Environment Agency (EA) stipulates the importance of homeowners ensuring their wastewater treatment systems always function correctly and don't pollute the surrounding environment.

If a local pollution incident is caused by poor installation or negligence from the homeowner and their installer, they are both at risk for prosecution by the EA. This can lead to a large fine or a hefty clean-up bill.

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Enforcement laws against non-compliant septic tanks

If your septic tank causes pollution and does not comply with the laws, you may be committing an offence.

You may be subjected to:

  • Paying an unlimited fine

The Environment Agency can take serious actions against you for environmental offences and breaches.

For example:

  • Making enforcement and sanctioning decisions such as prosecuting
  • Applying climate change civil penalties

For more information read the detailed and updated Environment Agency enforcement and Sanctions Policy.

What to do if your septic tank does not comply with the GBR

If your septic tank does not comply with the GBR don’t panic. You can install a new septic tank or a Sewage Treatment Plant and divert the course of wastewater.

The best and most common option is essentially installing a new septic tank. A new tank will actively treat the water so that the wastewater is non-pollutive and safe. This will ensure that any wastewater draining into a nearby water source will not cause any environmental damage.

New septic tanks and sewage systems also come with a certificate for you to keep and present to any future buyers.

What is a Sewage Treatment Plant?

Sewage Treatment Plants treat wastewater instead of separating it. For example, they operate by circulating air to encourage the growth of bacteria to break down sewage. In turn, this delivers environmentally friendly wastewater. You will also be complying with the Environmental Agency Regulations which will aid in the sale of your home.

Who is responsible for a septic tank?

Homeowners

If you’re the owner and occupier of a property with a septic tank, you are entirely responsible for your tank. You are responsible for repairing, maintaining and ensuring the tank complies with the rules and regulations set.

Landlords and tenants

Both landlords and tenants can be responsible for the septic tank. It entirely depends on what’s written in the tenancy agreement. The responsibility of the maintenance can be written into the agreement for the tenant to maintain the septic tank.

However, if issues arose before the new tenancy agreement then it is not the current tenants responsibility.

If you’re a landlord, it can be difficult to work out who is responsible for the septic tank. You might want your tenant to take responsibility for maintaining the tank. If so, you may need to put extra measures into place.

Organise an inspection of the tank before and after any tenancy agreement. You may want to clarify the tenancy agreement and expand on the tenants duties regarding the septic tank.

Taking care of such things yourself may be beneficial in the long run for both yourself and your tenants.

How can I protect myself as a tenant?

If as a tenant you find yourself in a position where you have to take duty over managing the septic tank, you may want to protect yourself. Insist on an inspection taking place before you move in, to ensure you aren't inheriting any existing problems.

It might also be worth checking on the history and schedule of maintenance, as well as the guidelines of the septic tank. You must not create any damage to the tank and use the tank according to regulations.

If you are struggling with maintaining and using the tank, speak to the professionals. If you are worried about breaking any of the regulations or causing environmental damage, contact the Environment Agency.

Summary: Maintaining your septic tank is key

Although you may find it challenging to sell your property with a septic tank, it is not an impossible task. As long as you follow the rules and regulations set in place you should have no problem and the sale should go smoothly.

It is vital that you maintain the septic tank, repair any damage and keep up with any new regulations. This is to make sure you do not face any legal repercussions and that you’re not damaging the environment.

For a successful sale or to simply live with a septic tank, you must regularly check the standard of your tank - also emptying it yearly. For additional information regarding the laws on septic tanks, the Environment Agency and GBR should help you.

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