Bedrooms at the Beach – Advertising Occupancy

Every year the Commission receives complaints that brokers in the vacation rental business have represented that a cottage or cabin may be occupied by more people than the septic tank permit allows.

Of course, tenants complain when the waste lines back up or the septic system fails. Health officials become concerned when failures create unsanitary conditions and when property limitations allow no room for system expansion or repairs. Agents should be aware of the dangers of advertising occupancy levels for any property served by a septic system without first verifying the system’s legal capacity.

Properties that are not served by municipal sewer systems are typically inspected by local health departments to assess the site’s capacity for on-site sewage disposal (septic systems). An application is submitted for an improvement permit and the county issues a septic permit with a maximum number of bedrooms based on the site’s capacity.

Occupancy levels are determined by the number of bedrooms allowed by the septic permit, with a maximum of two people per legal bedroom. Therefore, the septic permit is the key to identifying the total number of bedrooms and the total number of people that a particular sewage system can serve.

Brokers should understand restrictions on land usage for properties with which he/she is dealing. Brokers who advertise such properties must be careful not to overstate the number of legal bedrooms or the maximum occupancy.

Advertisements which say things like “three bedrooms and foldout sofa,” “sleeps ten,” and “two queens, two doubles, and bunk twins” all make representations about occupancy. Brokers should take care that their advertising does not promote a violation of health codes by directly or indirectly representing that a rental unit may be occupied by more persons than the septic tank permit will allow. An overloaded system can fail and lead to groundwater contamination, costly repairs, and even condemnation.

If a broker’s advertisement of a property served by a septic system includes a maximum occupancy that exceeds the ability of the septic system as provided by the permit, the agent may have misrepresented the true condition of the property.

A broker should check the county records and disclose both the legal number of bedrooms and a maximum occupancy of no greater than the number determined by this method, regardless of the actual number of bedrooms or beds in the house.

Advertising a property as having more bedrooms than permitted, even with a disclosure that the septic permit states fewer bedrooms, may still be misleading and encourage illegal use of the property.

Sometimes the original septic permit for a property cannot be located.  The health department can usually make a determination based on a new inspection.

Licensees should also keep in mind the maximum occupancy must not be overstated as long as the house is serviced by a septic system, even when conversion to public sewer has been scheduled, but not completed.

This article came from the October 2010-Vol41-2 edition of the bulletin.