In rural areas of King County not served by city sewer, property owners and their agents must be aware of the current Public Health regulations (effective date of change was July 1, 2010) regarding septic tanks and their maintenance. At time of sale, this is when "the sludge meets the pump". So, if you're planning to sell in coming months, this article will help you to understand the scope of what you need to know in order to avoid problems in your septic tank, and in your sale!
Public health regulations in King County now require that the seller retain an On-Site System Maintainer (OSM) licensed by King County to perform an Operation and Maintenance inspection prior to property transfer. The report must be current to within 12 months of the sale. This report (prepared on County approved forms) must be provided not only to the purchaser, but to the King County Health Department. Purchasers have the right to attend the inspection if done while they are in contract, and ask questions of the licensed OSM.
The advantage to having the System inspection done early is avoiding a problem during a purchase contract. If the inspection turns up irregularities, there is time to provide a solution before the buyer is on the scene. If you are the proactive type and do the inspection early, be reasonably confident of your home selling within the year, or you might be stuck ordering a second report. Sellers who wait take the risk that septic system problems could cause the buyer to rescind his purchase contract, costing the seller valuable market time and money.
Public health regs require that the septic tank be observed BEFORE it has been pumped. If already pumped, the lack of effluent in the tank makes for an inconclusive report since normal operating conditions are not observable by the inspector. A compromised report could diminish the seller's credibility for having rushed the pump-out ahead of the report.
Septic systems and their drainfields require normal maintenance to insure they continue to perform as designed. King County Health Department Regulations further require that the seller file a County OSS notice (your Realtor can provide this form and a current list of certified OSM's) that outlines the recommended maintenance procedures. Once recorded by the King County Recorder's office in Seattle, the seller has put the purchaser (and future purchasers) on notice that these systems require periodic care and maintenance.
What can go wrong with a septic tank and its drain field? The pipes may become crushed or damaged by root growth, earthquake, or the unwitting back yard project. The pipes carrying effluent from the house can become clogged (if you didn't eat it, don't flush it). Baby wipes, foreign objects, build up of grease, some detergents don't break down. Finally, there is the risk of drainfield fairlure, when the ground can no longer provide sufficient filtration and drainage. In such an instance, a reserve drainfield may have been planned for, and if not, then a new field or system may have to be designed, permitted, and constructed, an expensive proposition.
For further information, contact King County's On-site Septic System Operation and Maintenance Program (OSSM) at 206-296-4932.