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Professional Standards Manual

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4. General Information

(a) Contract Clauses - View Entire Section

(XXV) Health and Environmental Concerns - View Subsection
(3) Special Concerns with Rural Land - View Sub-subsection
(i) Sewage Disposal Systems

In BC, many homes outside major urban areas don’t have access to a public sewer system. This means wastewater must be treated on the property, in accordance with the provincial Sewerage System Regulation, using what is known as an “onsite wastewater treatment system.” 

RFC_4_septic1

For licensees representing sellers of properties with onsite wastewater treatment systems, there are a number of details they should be familiar with, in order to provide informed and competent service to their clients.

Licensees may wish to consider the following questions when listing a property with an onsite wastewater treatment system:

Does the Sewage System Regulation (SSR) apply to my client’s property?

The Sewerage System Regulation (SSR), which came into force on May 31, 2005, covers onsite wastewater systems that:

  • process a sewage flow of less than 22,700 litres per day;
  • serve single-family systems or duplexes;
  • serve different buildings on a single parcel of land; and
  • serve one or more parcels on strata lots or on a shared interest of land.

The SSR requires that records of the construction of the onsite system, and of any subsequent alterations to it, be filed with the local health authority. This applies to all properties, including those in remote areas or unorganized territories, whether a building permit is required or not.

What about properties with systems constructed prior to May 31, 2005?

The SSR is not retroactive. However, the seller should be able to prove that the system was in compliance with the regulation in effect at the time the system was constructed. Permits were required for systems built prior to May 31, 2005 and should be available at the local health authority. Please keep in mind that many documents have been lost/destroyed through the years, so the lack of information at the health unit may not necessarily mean that a permit was not taken.

Has the system been planned and installed according to the regulations?

Owners who have constructed a new onsite wastewater treatment system on or after May 31, 2005, or whose systems have been altered or repaired since that date, must have retained the services of an authorized person to plan, install and maintain the system. An authorized person is either a professional engineer or a Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioner (ROWP). Although systems constructed prior to May 31, 2005 are not subject to this requirement, it is highly recommended that system maintenance be performed by a ROWP.

ROWPS are registered with the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC), which recognizes four categories of practitioners:

  • Planners, who perform site and soil assessments, design systems, and create maintenance plans for systems,
  • Installers, who install systems according to design plans,
  • Maintenance Providers, who monitor and maintain systems, and
  • Private Inspectors, who inspect and assess existing systems.

Before beginning construction of an onsite wastewater treatment system, the authorized person must file the system’s plans and specifications with the local health authority. Within 30 days of completing the installation of the system, the authorized person must file the following documents with the local health authority, and provide copies of all documents to the owner:

  • a letter of certification;
  • a plan of the system including an As-Built Drawing; and
  • the Operating and Maintenance Manual.

Has the Use Changed?

Where a new use will be made of an existing onsite wastewater treatment system previously permitted under the 1985 Wastewater Treatment Regulation (for example, a house being built to replace a temporary or seasonal dwelling), an authorized person should conduct a site evaluation and a documented inspection of the system to determine if it is suitable for the new use.

If the system requires upgrading, all regulatory filing provisions apply, including plans, specifications and a site evaluation with report.

Has the system been adequately maintained?

All onsite wastewater treatment systems need regular ongoing maintenance. Once an onsite system is installed, upgraded or repaired, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure that the maintenance plan is followed. If the homeowner does not maintain the wastewater treatment system properly, malfunction and possible failure of the system can result, and the homeowner may need to pay for costly repairs or replacement of the disposal system.

The Sewerage System Regulation and the Sewerage System Standard Practice Manual (created by the Ministry of Health) stipulate who may design, install or maintain sewage systems. All work on onsite systems, such as repairs to systems, and any maintenance on systems, must be performed by an authorized person. This includes the regular monitoring and maintenance of septic tanks, treatment plants or processes and dispersal fields (which may be required up to three times per year depending on usage and other conditions that may affect performance).

House with field

Have I obtained all required documentation for the system?

As a licensee acting for the seller of a property with an installed onsite wastewater treatment system, you should obtain the pertinent records from the local health authority in order to verify that:

  • for a wastewater treatment system installed prior to May 2005, the appropriate permit has been issued and the system was installed with the approval and inspection of the appropriate department of the B.C. government; or
  • for any wastewater treatment system installed after May 2005, that it was installed by an authorized person as defined in the Sewerage System Regulation and a Letter of Certification was filed with the local health authority; and
  • records of any major repairs and/or upgrades to the system have been filed with the health authority.

Wastewater treatment systems may be subject to periodic inspections by the local government or the health authority may have issued a work order for a particular system. Licensees should check with the local health authority for the existence of such work orders and inspection reports.

Should the system be inspected?

Inspections of a property’s onsite wastewater treatment system, which are a condition of sale by mortgage or insurance companies, or by prospective buyers, must be performed by an authorized person, either a ROWP registered as a Private Inspector or a professional engineer. ASTTBC recommends that sellers have an inspection prior to listing their property for sale in order to identify any necessary maintenance or repairs. This can simplify the disclosure to buyers and alleviate concerns.

Allow for appropriate time line to book an inspection and to gather all the required paperwork. Accessing the required documents from health authority offices or archives may take several days. Inspections of existing onsite wastewater treatment systems can be challenging and time-consuming, as they may be buried beneath mature landscaping, making the system in some cases difficult to locate and assess, as well as to perform any necessary maintenance and repairs.

Ensure the authorized person receives:

  • all documents from the health authority,
  • land title documents indicating the location of any reserve fields and/or any existing covenants for reserve field easements,
  • records of past maintenance done on the system.

If the system is to be inspected, a clause such as the following should be included in the Contract of Purchase and Sale:

Sewage System Inspection Clause
Subject to the Buyer, at the Buyer’s expense, receiving, reviewing and being satisfied with a report from an appropriate authorized person (as defined in the British Columbia Sewerage System Regulation (‘‘Regulation’’)) concerning the operational function and condition of the components of the wastewater treatment system on the property (‘‘System’’), and compliance of the System with the Regulation on or before (date) .

This condition is for the sole benefit of the Buyer.

What if the inspection reveals problems with the system?

Existing systems that require repairs and/or replacement must be brought into compliance with the Sewerage System Regulation, with limited exceptions. In addition to determining that the system was appropriately installed, a buyer should determine whether any maintenance on the system is in compliance with the Maintenance Plan filed with the health authority.

What disclosure is required?

Sellers must disclose any known problems with a septic system. Typically, a record of pumping (of the septic tank) and a copy of the septic permit (if applicable) is usually sufficient for disclosure purposes. Filing with the health authority is only required if there has been a substantive change to the septic system.

If a Seller has confirmed that an existing wastewater treatment system has been properly installed, inspected and approved, the following clause should be suggested by buyers’ agents for inclusion in an offer:

Seller Sewage System Representation and Warranty Clause
The Seller represents and warrants that:

  1. the wastewater treatment system on the property (‘‘System’’) was installed, inspected and approved by an authorized person as defined in the British Columbia Sewerage System Regulation; and
  2. a permit/letter of certification respecting the System is on file with the local health authority.

If an inspection reveals that the wastewater treatment system for the property does not meet the necessary standards, the contract should provide a clause such as the following:

The Buyer acknowledges and agrees that the onsite wastewater treatment system (“System”) does not meet the approved standards as required and defined in the British Columbia Sewerage System Regulation, and/or that a permit and/or letter of certification respecting the System is not on file with the local health authority. The Buyer acknowledges and agrees that the Seller has not made any representations nor given any express or implied warranties with respect to the System. The Buyer accepts the System, in its present condition, “as is, where is.”

What if there’s no wastewater system on the property?

In the case of a property without sewage services, the contract should provide a clause allowing the buyer to obtain a site assessment by an authorized person for an onsite wastewater treatment system.

Assessing Property for Wastewater Treatment System Clause
Subject to the Buyer, at the Buyer’s expense, having the property assessed (‘‘Assessment’’) by an appropriate authorized person (as defined in the British Columbia Sewerage System Regulation), to determine the feasibility of installing an onsite wastewater treatment system on the property (‘‘System’’), along with the cost associated with the installation of the System, and the Buyer being satisfied with the Assessment on or before (date).

This condition is for the sole benefit of the Buyer.

Our thanks to the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC for their review and feedback on this article.