What Do I need to know about Septic systems?

8 Replies

Hi folks,

I'm about to purchase a country home with a septic system. I have no experience with this sort of plumbing, so looking for pro-tips. What do I need to know/look for when purchasing a home with a septic system? What kind of care and maintenance is required? Finally, are there any tenant nightmare scenarios I should know about and tips to avoid them?

Thank you so much!!!

Most tenants don't understand how a septic system works, just like you. It's your responsibility to learn about them and then educate your tenants. I provide an addendum to my lease with guidance on the Do's and Dont's of a septic. 

Rather than spend time typing something up, I invite you to read this article or email me and I will share my addendum that I provide my tenants.

Septic systems should be inspected by a licensed septic professional.  If they are cared for, just like anything else, they will last 20-50 years.  The biggest issue people run into is that if there is a major repair, your city/county may not allow it and force you to update your whole system,  which can cost upward of $20k.  Septic system regulations here in Texas change frequently, so be sure to understand what you can and cannot do.  Also, be sure to get a copy of the septic system permit before you buy and verify that the current system is what is permitted.  If the previous owner did rogue repairs, you could be asking for a lot of headaches.  

If this is for a rental, be sure to educate your tenants and have DO's and DONT's in the lease.  Just like any other sewer line issues, if it is general wear and tear/tree roots/etc. landlord is responsible.  If the tenant has the information and it is in the lease, any foreign material that causes issues is their responsibility to cover.

In all, they are not problematic if you know how to manage them.  I have a rental with a septic and my parents live in the country with a septic system.  For the rental, I use it as an excuse to stop by and change the drain fields every quarter.  Less than a 5 min job, and I get to have a look that all is well at the rental.  Don't let them scare you, just get educated about them.

I would not advise having tenants with a septic system. As with not having utilities in a tenants they will not care what they do. They will not care about your septic.

Tenants are irresponsible by nature and will be a serious threat to septic regardless of what you tell them.

Septic + Tenants = Expensive Mistake

Know what kind of system you have. Try privatewellclass.org and search septic they have some webinars on septic. An important thing you need to know is what happens at transfer. In some states there is an inspection required. In some states there is a septic certificate. The certificate means you have a septic, not that it was inspected,not that it was emptied. As for tenants and septic, it is a country house no one is probably ever running sewer lines so it is something for your location you deal with,it can be done. I do advise if you have an injection pump pay attention special attention to nothing but TP in the toilet.

@Ana Patrice Don’t be afraid of a septic system. There are two types of septic systems. Conventional and aerobic. In short, conventional ones need to be pumped out completely every two to five years depending on residents. If you purchase a home with one get a licensed company that specializes in conventional systems to pump out the tanks completely and inspect the tanks to ensure no issues. They should use your hose to wash it out after draining completely before doing a thorough inspection. Shady ones won’t drain completely and tell you you have an issue. So watch it. Draining a tank completely costs between $600-$800. I have dealat with this on a couple of flips.

Aerobic systems are newer and were starting to be installed in the 80’s. They do not require tanks to be drained every few years. They do it on their own. I pay a licensed septic company $100/year to come out to and inspect my septic system once a quarter. No issues for years. 

Plus, the best part of septic systems are they are environmentally sustainable and you don’t have to pay city sewage fees. If you can lower your tenants utility bills they can pay their rent. But make sure you get the do’s and don’ts of what can go in a septic tank in your lease agreement. That way any issues arise because of tenant neglect they will pay for repairs.

Hi @Ana Patrice ,

All good advise above, but one thing wasn't mentioned. You must get it inspected, because you don't know what you're buying. But in order for it to be inspected it must be cleaned out first. Make sure the Seller is paying for this, because if you don't end up buying the home, you're out $500-$600 to clean out the tank, and the Seller just got that done for free.

I see no issue renting a home with a septic system, as long as you coach your tenants. They need to understand that they can't put too many chemicals down the drains because that will kill all the beneficial bacteria in the tank. They should know not to park anything heavy on top of it, and they need to know where the drain field is, and how to maintain that field. Unfortunately, I don't know the cost of maintenance.

Good luck!

@Joe Funari Oh great tip! I didn't realize it would need to be drained to be inspected. 

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