DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about two years ago, and everyone said the septic system was OK. This was the first home we ever owned with a septic tank, so we didn’t know any better.

A plumber was hired to inspect it, and no problems were found. But last week, the water main broke, the tank got flooded, and sewage backed up into the house. That’s when we learned that the septic tank is under the concrete floor in the garage, the tank is collapsing, the leach field is under the driveway, and the water main is over the tank.

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about two years ago, and everyone said the septic system was OK. This was the first home we ever owned with a septic tank, so we didn’t know any better.

A plumber was hired to inspect it, and no problems were found. But last week, the water main broke, the tank got flooded, and sewage backed up into the house. That’s when we learned that the septic tank is under the concrete floor in the garage, the tank is collapsing, the leach field is under the driveway, and the water main is over the tank.

So now we are living in a hotel because our house has no water or sewage system. We feel that someone — the sellers, our agent or the septic inspector — should have disclosed this mess before we bought the property. Who is responsible for this mess, and what can we do about it? –Cheri

DEAR CHERI: A proper septic inspection should have been done before you purchased this property, and that is clearly not what happened. A septic inspection requires specialized equipment and should be done by a licensed septic contractor, not a plumber. A thorough septic inspection includes:

1) Locating the tank.
2) Removing the lid from the tank.
3) Pumping out the contents of the tank into a sewage transport truck.
4) Inspecting the interior of the evacuated tank.
5) Water-testing the leach field by running water into the system.

Anything less than this does not qualify as a competent septic inspection. If the person who did your inspection had followed this normal procedure, the locations of the tank, the leach field and possibly the water main would have been discovered. A hole would have been cut into the garage slab to enable access to the tank, and the ensuing inspection would have revealed that the tank was collapsing. If all this had taken place, the sellers could have replaced the septic system, or you could have walked away from the deal. Either way, you would not be living in a hotel with a massive expense staring you in the face. …CONTINUED

So what can you do about it? Well let’s begin by asking a few questions.

a) Was the plumber licensed to service and evaluate septic systems, and did he follow the procedures listed above?

b) Did the seller know that the septic tank was located under the garage? If so, why was this not disclosed?

c) Did your real estate agent advise you to obtain a comprehensive septic inspection by a qualified professional? If not, why not? Real estate professionals who transact properties in rural areas should know better than to have a plumber conduct a summary inspection of a septic system.

Finally, you need to obtain three bids from licensed septic contractors for installation of a new system, installed with permits and in accord with accepted standards. You’ll also need plumbing bids for repair or replacement of the damaged water main. These bids should be submitted to the sellers and the agent. If no one is willing to accept responsibility for faulty disclosure, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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