What can I do if septic tank is non-conformé at French second home?

Sarah Bright-Thomas of Bright Avocats answers a reader question

Picture of septic tanks
Most faults found by inspectors cover basic elements such as issues with covers or leaks

Reader Question: We bought a house with a septic tank which was judged non-conformé . The previous owners did some renovations on it but we have no receipts for that. Today we received a letter from the Service public d'assainissement non collectif (SPANC) asking us to prove the work. Can we be fined? Can we be forced to complete work we cannot afford?

Having a certificate of conformity for a septic tank system is necessary when you sell a house in France.

There are occasions where a non-conformé certificate is issued before a sale – in most cases it is up to the seller to make sure the work is done, and the buyer usually insists on a clean certificate, or has the system costed and the amount taken off the price of the house.

If the work has been done by the previous owners, you should not have a problem.

Explain the situation to the SPANC technicians, and they will check that the work is of the required standard and addresses the faults discovered during the first inspection.

The work originally required will be detailed in the non-conformé notice.

Most of the faults found by inspectors cover basic elements – such as issues with covers which injure people, leaking pipes, or blocked filters.

If the fosse has not been emptied when it should (a maximum 10 years is permitted between emptying) that could also lead to a non-conformé certificate.

Read more: Septic tanks expose difference between law and reality in France

Septic tank at French home is too small

Occasionally a tank is found to be too small for the property.

If SPANC finds the work was not done, you have a year from the date you signed the acte de vente to either repair your system or to replace it, with SPANC coming to check it before the trenches are filled.

Where owners refuse to do the work, they can first be fined by SPANC, double the amount they pay for waste water services, through the taxe foncière.

If owners still do not respond, the case is handed over to the mairie who has to intervene if there is a problem which might lead to humans getting sick.

They can open cases against you at either administrative courts or judicial courts.

If there is pollution from your tank, courts can fine you up to €75,000 and jail you for two years.

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