Title V Septic Systems

When selling a home in Mass. and your property has a septic system, cesspool, or other private waste disposal system you will be required to have a septic system inspection or what is commonly called a “Title V” inspection. The most recent version of this law went into effect on April 21st 2006. Its purpose is to protect human health, safety and the environment. The local city and town boards of health department and the MASS.D.E.P. are responsible to overseeing this process.

Common Title V Questions & Answers:

When is a Title V Inspection Required?

In general, anytime a property is sold or transferred to new owners, or divided, combined or expanded. Property transferred between spouses, siblings, or family trusts usually do not trigger an inspection.

For how long is an inspection valid?

Inspections required in connection with a property transfer are good for two years. If a property is sold more than once in the two-year period, the single inspection is valid for all transfers. When a system is pumped on an annual basis and the pumping records are available, an inspection is valid for three years.

The DEP considers annual pumping of the system as that occurring at any time during each calendar year over the three year period.

Who is responsible when the septic system fails and needs to be replaced, the buyer or the seller?

The owner of the system is the legally responsible party required to upgrade a failing system. Prior to transfer of the property, this is typically the seller. Often, the buyer and seller work out the financial issues as part of the sale of the property. Title 5 does not require that a system be in passing condition prior to the sale, but most lenders will not issue a mortgage until the failing system is upgraded or funds to perform the upgrade are escrowed.

How do I have my system inspected if I am selling the property in the middle of the winter?

If weather conditions prevent an inspection before a sale, Title 5 allows the inspection to be done up to six months afterwards, provided that the seller notifies the buyer in writing of the need to complete the inspection. Also lenders will allow for escrow hold backs for septic systems during the winter months. Please be aware, however, that not all lenders will allow hold backs, and if they do, there will need to be 1.5 times the replacement costs held back. So, if the septic system will cost $10,000 to replace, the lender will retain $15,000 until the system passes inspection.

Who arranges for the inspection?

The property owner is generally responsible for arranging an inspection. However, prior to the time title is transferred, the seller and buyer may contractually assign responsibility for the inspection, provided that it occurs within the specified time frames.

I’m selling my home and the septic system has failed the Title 5 inspection. If I decide not to sell as a result, am I still obligated to repair the system?

Yes. Once an official inspection is performed on a system, the results must be submitted to the Board of Health within 30 days. Whether or not the homeowner decides to sell, a failed system typically must be upgraded within two years, unless the local Board of Health or MA D.E.P. authorizes an alternative schedule.

How Much Does Septic System Testing Cost?

On average the cost for an inspection is between $300 and $750. Some Mass. towns will require septic pumping at the time of inspection. Pumping a septic tank usually costs $150 to $300, depending on how many gallons the tank holds. A septic inspection is not included in the buyer’s typical home inspection. It is a separate inspection that is performed by and paid for by the Seller. The inspection must be performed by someone licensed by the Mass. D.E.P.

How Much Does A Septic System Cost To Repair or Replace?

These costs can vary widely depending on the scope of work. The range can be anywhere from $5,000 – $40,000. Be sure to get multiple quotes as these can vary widely as well.

Mass. Mortgage Buddy Tips & Traps:

  • Many bank owned properties which have been foreclosed on have failed septic systems which the bank is unwilling to repair. This creates a great equity building opportunity for home buyers. There are FHA 203K & construction loans you can obtain which will provide the necessary financing for the buyer to replace the system post-closing.
  • If you are buying a property with a septic system, perform your due diligence above and beyond a mere pass/fail determination. Septic systems are built and approved according to the bedroom count in the home. Confirm the approved or proposed septic system matches the homes bedroom count.
  • If you are buying a condo which is serviced by a septic or private system, the condo association will be responsible for providing the necessary documentation

For more detailed information on Massachusetts Title V visit the MA.gov site.