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Septic tanks under spotlight

Homeowners selling their property need to be aware of new rules from this month

FROM the beginning of January, owners of homes using septic tank systems will have to supply potential buyers with a certificate showing they conform to the latest standards.

A diagnostic assainissement (treatment of waste water check) is therefore the latest addition to the list of property checks that sellers may have to have done, on top of termite infestation, presence of asbestos, safety of electricity and gas installations etc.

It is thought there are about five million French homes, mainly detached, that have assainissement non-collectif (non-public drainage systems), that is a waste water system using a septic tank as opposed to being connected to the public drains.

These work by draining household waste water into a buried tank, where bacteria break it down before the liquid is allowed to leak into the ground through a network of tubing spread across a wide area.

Many French systems are thought to be defective, which can cause pollution of the environment and potential health risks, which is why a new property check was created in a 2006 law. It was originally planned these would become obligatory in sales only from 2013, but this was brought forward in the ENE environment law this year.

Waste water check certificates must be no more than three years old when a sale takes place and should be supplied at the moment of signing the pre-sale agreement, the compromis de vente.

The law states that, where the certificate shows the septic tank system does not meet correct standards, the purchaser should renovate it within a year after the sale. This differs from the other diagnostics, which are merely informative (unless the buyer wishes to rent out their home).

If no certificate is supplied, the seller is subject to a guarantee for vice cachés (that is, if the system is found later to be faulty, the seller could sue for a damages payment to pay for repairs).

If there is no certificate, the seller could also annul the contract or apply to a judge to lower the purchase price. Where the certificate is supplied but shows faults, it is in the buyer’s interest to use this fact to negotiate a lower price for the home.

They could seek an estimate (devis) from an installation firm in order to know what the cost of repairing or replacing the installation would be.

The septic tank check should be arranged via your mairie, in particular a service called the spanc (service public d'assainissement non-collectif).

Costs vary from one area to another, but are about €100-150.

Mairies are legally obliged to organise such checks on all septic tanks in their areas by the end of 2012; however many have yet to be done. It is thought that bringing forward the date making the certificates obligatory in sales will lead to a spike in demand for their services.

A spokeswoman for one firm supplying septic tanks, Eparco, said: “We are expecting a significant increase in orders for new systems; this is sure to have an impact.”

If you are contemplating a home purchase and no check has been done, you should seek advice from the notaire handling the sale and think carefully before purchasing.

The diagnostic certificate will flag up any problems with maintenance or wear and tear, check that the equipment meets acceptable technical standards and that it does not create any health or pollution risks or risks of nuisance to neighbours (eg. from smells). If appropriate, it will list what work will need to be done, in order of priority.

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