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Buying an off-grid house in the country - what do you need to know?

View profile for Daniel Shein
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Daniel Shein's article first appeared in Financial Times Property on 5th October 2018

How to flush out drainage issues

I’m buying a house in the country that isn’t connected to the mains drainage. What do I need to check?

The first question is whether there is a septic tank or cesspit. Septic tanks are the main type of system used to deal with sewage from domestic properties that are not connected to the public sewer. They are a sewage treatment system with an outlet to a soakaway. A cesspit — or cesspool — is a sealed tank that simply collects the sewage. When a property is sold, the departing owner must confirm if it is connected to the mains drainage, and, if not, the system used to deal with sewage.

What about the condition of the septic tank or cesspit? How does one check something like that?

The condition, maintenance record and capacity of the septic tank or cesspit should be checked by a surveyor. If a septic tank does not meet current standards, or if it discharges sewage to surface waters (such as rivers), then the sale of the property will trigger the requirement to replace or upgrade the system. There is no such trigger for cesspits. If the septic tank or cesspit is defective and causes contamination, you may be liable to carry out remediation work, even if this happened before you bought the property.All this is starting to make me feel nauseated.

What else is there to think about — what about maintenance?

Typically, a septic tank will need emptying annually. Cesspits have to be emptied more frequently, usually every 45 days. Maintenance must be undertaken by someone who is qualified, and waste sludge must be disposed of by an authorised person. You should insist on seeing recent receipts to check this, and to give a steer on future maintenance costs.

This article first appeared in The Financial Times.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.