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When Your Septic System Fails...

By Stuart Lieberman, Esq
International Real Estate Digest

A failing septic system can be quite a traumatic event. And failing septic systems are very common phenomenon.

What happens when a septic system fails to properly function? Often, you will find a pooling of water in the area of the septic disposal area. There will also likely be a foul odor in the area, and sanitary waste may actually become visible. In the business, these are "floatables." Not a good situation.

What should you do if your system is failing? First and foremost you need to find a way to fix it immediately. Human waste contains bacteria and viruses which can make people ill. You need to fix this problem.

In addition, no matter where you reside laws require that your septic system work properly. If you are maintaining an improperly working septic system, you are most assuredly violating the law and can be fined.

Also, if your system is not working properly you risk legal liability because you might make people sick. If you make people sick or create what is referred to as a "public nuisance," you can be sued and you may have to pay damages, including punitive damages to those that you have or may hurt. Punitive damages are damages designed to punish a wrong doer and can result in penalties of many thousands of dollars.

Of course, these can be expensive propositions. Some government entities have loans and grants available for these expenditures. But if they are not, you will be on your own.

One other alternative is to lobby your local officials for public sewers. But public sewers are not easy to obtain. They are expensive and in these days of dwindling government budgets, funds are often not available for these expenditures unless public sewers are absolutely necessary because of area wide septic failures. Local governments may even be entitled to infrastructure grants and loans to construct area wide sewer systems.

Should you be fortunate enough to live near a public sewer line, yow may receive permission to connect you home into the system. Depending on where you live, this permission can be easy to obtain, or nearly impossible.

Proper and regular septic system maintenance should prolong the system's life. There are professionals available everywhere who can help you. Check their references before you retain their services.

If a system cannot be maintained or repaired, you may have to install a new system. That may require locating a new septic field, which means conducting peculation tests to determine which soils can support a septic system. Not all soils can support a septic system and when that happens, you really can have a problem. You may have to install an elevated system or look for an innovative technology that is acceptable to local officials. I have been involved in cases without apparent septic system solutions, although fortunately such cases are few and far between.