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Septic Systems, Real Estate Transactions and You

September 07, 2012

Editor's Note: Randy Trox of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has provided the following information about proposed rules that would require septic system inspections in coastal counties.

Septic systems and the treatment of effluent is not the most exciting topic at dinner parties but certainly something I think about daily at work in Oregon's Onsite Septic program. Perhaps that's why I am seldom invited to dinner parties.

Let’s host our own "dinner party" and explore a new aspect of septic systems that may affect your future real estate transactions. Oregon DEQ has proposed a rule that would require septic system inspections and reporting for properties in the following "coastal" counties: Clatsop, Tillamook, Lincoln, Lane (west of the coast range), Douglas, Coos, Curry, Jackson and Josephine beginning in March 2013.

At a dinner party, you'd have some questions for me after I started a conversation with that.

What would be required?
The proposed process would require three things:

- Compile permit, inspection and maintenance records, and provide to the buyer.

- Pump and inspect septic tanks by a qualified inspector. Expose and inspect boxes that distribute sewage to the absorption areas, sand filter or treatment system that are present.

- Submit an evaluation report to DEQ prior to the property transfer. Deficiencies would be addressed much like deficiencies discovered in other property sale inspections, with remedies negotiated between the buyer and seller. Deficiencies that pose an immediate threat to water quality and public health (leaky septic tanks or surfacing sewage, for example) will need to be addressed by either the buyer or the seller.

Who have you talked to?
DEQ consulted both real estate and septic business folks in Oregon on the current practice for septic inspections and how this proposed process could work. We also reviewed how several states, such as Arizona, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Iowa, implemented their time of transfer septic system inspection rules. In Washington State, several counties in the Puget Sound area have adopted time of transfer inspection programs, too. We considered several models in developing our program for Oregon.

Why now?
Oregon is required to establish a septic system inspection program by the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) of 1990. Failure to adopt an inspection program would result in a loss of federal dollars to Oregon that are used to make improvements to Oregon’s water quality, such a fencing to keep livestock out of rivers and replacing poorly designed culverts with more fish-friendly models.

Can I comment?
We want to hear from the people who are being impacted by Oregon’s environmental laws. Public input will help ensure the requirements are successfully implemented. Please look over what we are proposing and provide input.

DEQ will be accepting public comments on the draft rules from early October through October 19, 2012 (dates are approximate). Public hearings will take place  the week of October 15, 2012. For more information on how you can comment, find hearing locations and to get a copy of the proposed rule, please visit www.deq.state.or.us/wq/onsite/onsite.htm.

What if I have more questions?
I’m available via e-mail at trox.randall@deq.state.or.us or by phone at (541) 687-7338 . . . or perhaps for your next dinner party.

Randy Trox, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

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