Septic System Inspections During Real Estate Transactions
There are three basic options to consider if you are buying or selling a house serviced by a septic system in Hillsborough Township.
- Sell the house with the septic system “as is”: A house with any septic system, including a septic system that is malfunctioning, is allowed to be bought and sold. The only caveats to this are: 1) cesspools must be replaced at the time of transfer, but which party is responsible (buyer or seller) is to be negotiated during the transfer process; and 2) malfunctioning septic systems MUST BE abated by one party or the other, and an agreement with a timeline for work to be completed must be made with the Hillsborough Health Department.
- Install a new septic system: Install a new system, which becomes an item to be negotiated by buyer and seller.
- REQUEST a Repair: A request to repair an existing septic system may be made to the Hillsborough Health Department for existing systems. It must be noted that some conditions observed at the time of inspection may not be allowed to be repaired. In addition, some repairs MUST be designed or certified by a professional engineer. Only a complete NJDEP Onsite System Inspection will be accepted for consideration for repair; a complete inspection requires that all tanks must be pumped and thoroughly inspected. If a report is submitted without all tanks being pumped, the inspection will not be considered complete and a repair will not be approved until the tank(s) are pumped. Please make sure that the inspection company you hire is aware of this prior to conducting their inspection.
- If you are proposing to repair the existing septic system, please make sure that you submit both a NJDEP “Onsite System Inspection Report” and a corresponding “Inspection Report Letter” (a copy of this state protocol can be found in N.J.A.C. 7:9A in Appendix E).
- Please read the report and letter before submitting a repair request to the health department. If the report and/or letter indicate the septic tank was not pumped at the time of inspection, your repair request will be denied, costing you time. Contact the seller and arrange for the tank to be pumped and thoroughly inspected prior to submitting the repair request.
- Please make sure to ask the septic inspection company you plan to hire to evaluate a septic if they pump out the septic tank as part of their inspection. If they do not, their evaluation and inspection will not be considered “complete” by the Hillsborough Health Department and we will not be able to approve any requested repair permits.
- The health dept is NOT allowed to discuss any specific details regarding a septic system with you, even if you paid to have that system inspected. Even though you may potentially buy/own the house, at this point you do not, so all specifics may only be discussed with the current owner. Any specific information regarding a septic system must come from the seller or their attorney.
- Please review the report by the inspection company that YOU HIRED and make your determination if you want to approve a repair or negotiate for a new system. The Inspection Letter includes a “Conclusions” section; this is where the company that performed the inspection lists items to be repaired, their recommendations, and their overall evaluation of the system. If you do not feel comfortable interpreting the septic system inspection report issued by the company you hired, the health department recommends consulting a professional engineer for their opinion.
HILLSBOROUGH HEALTH DEPARTMENT REPAIR REVIEW PROCESS:
When a request for a repair permit has been received by the Hillsborough Health Department, the review process is as follows:
- The Inspection Form and corresponding Inspection Letter are reviewed to determine if they are complete. The inspection form and letter include a list of repairs suggested by the inspection company, as well as their conclusions regarding the condition of the system. These are the items being considered for repair.
- IF documentation is complete, the Health Department determines if the scope of work to be repaired is approvable according to state code. Some work, such as increasing capacity to an absorption area, must be considered an “alteration” and not a “repair”, and must be done so under the direction of a professional engineer. The Health Department reserves the right to require a professional engineer to certify repairs requested.
- IF the repair permit is denied, it does not mean a new system must be installed; it generally means that the Health Department is requiring a professional engineer perform a more thorough evaluation of the system and/or certify the repairs requested.
- SEPTIC SYSTEMS HAVE A FINITE LIFE EXPECTANCY. Most documentation put the average life expectancy of a properly maintained septic system at 20 to 25 years. This does not mean that systems are not capable of functioning for longer periods of time.
- THE ISSUANCE OF A REPAIR PERMIT BY THE HILLSBOROUGH HEALTH DEPARTMENT IS NOT A GUARANTEE OR WARRANTY THAT THE SYSTEM WILL PERFORM FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME, INCLUDING IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE REPAIRS ARE PERFORMED. The Health Department reviews a repair proposal and only issues a repair permit based on 1) whether the inspection was conducted in accordance with the NJDEP inspection guidelines, and 2) whether the repairs are allowed to be performed according to NJDEP septic code.
- The issuance of a repair permit by the Hillsborough Health Department does not guarantee the repair will be allowed to proceed and be finalized. IF, at the time of inspection of the repair, conditions revealed on site are worse than indicated in the Inspection Report, the Health Department may require additional repairs be performed, OR may rescind the repair permit and require a professional engineer inspect the system in order to continue.