On-site Septic System or Public Water and Sewer – Do Your Research

By Danielle Alston, Consumer Protection Auditor

Since 1993, there have been at least 8 articles published by the Commission on the importance of reviewing septic permits in order to accurately advertise the number of bedrooms for a listed property. This subject has also been covered in at least 3 General Update courses. However, the Commission continues to receive complaints about misrepresentations by overstating the number of bedrooms for a property served by a septic system. If a broker decides to advertise the number of bedrooms for a property, that advertisement should accurately reflect the bedrooms supported by the septic system. In other words, be sure to check the septic permit, specifically, the number of bedrooms the septic permit allows.

Unfortunately, many complaints about septic permit misrepresentations are not received until years after the misrepresentation has been made.   The buyer is now ready to sell the home and cannot list it for the same number of bedrooms it was advertised as having when the buyer purchased it. While listing agents are primarily responsible for researching and reviewing septic permits, selling agents should also make it a practice to ask to review permits as a service to their clients. Reliance on old listings only adds to the misrepresentations over several transactions.

Sometimes the original septic permit for a property cannot be located due to the age of the property.  Be careful if you are relying on a bill to determine that a property is on city water or sewer. In some cases, the property may only have public water or sewer, but not both. Accuracy is important.  If a permit cannot be located after a reasonable search, a broker should document search efforts and obtain something in writing from the municipality stating that the permit cannot be located.  The broker can then advertise the  existing number of bedrooms with the disclosure that the permit records are not available and therefore capacity of the system could not be verified. 

Both listing and selling agents should be able to explain to their clients the value of obtaining a septic permit and what information such permits provide. Disclosures must always be made so that the potential buyer is made aware of material facts before an offer is made.

REMINDER: The Real Estate License Law prohibits misrepresentation, omission, or concealment of material facts; a course of misrepresentation through false advertising; and improper, dishonest, or fraudulent conduct. Willful or negligent misrepresentation of the occupancy or the design limits of a property’s on-site sewage disposal system may result in disciplinary action by the Commission.