Regulations that took effect this week require the owners of properties with septic tanks to pay a $170 fee to the county and provide proof that the tanks have been inspected and pumped when the property they're on sells.
The county wants the information so it can identify and repair failing systems to meet state standards, said Steve Petersen, the county’s environmental health program manager.
“The (sanitary) codes were changed earlier this year to require properties that transfer to be evaluated,” he said.
The new regulations also require a “time of transfer evaluation” report, which the property owner receives after submitting an application and the fee. If a drawing is not on file with the Health Department, a sketch of the system also must be provided.
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The regulations will end up costing property owners more than the $170 fee, which covers county staff time to review and issue reports. They also are on the hook for pumping and inspection costs.
Larry Koeser, the owner of Petunia Septic Service in Tumwater, said he charges at least $450 to pump a single-compartment septic tank. He said repairs can raise the initial cost, and a complete replacement costs at least $3,000.
NEW SEWER PLAN
In 2008, a sewer-management plan was adopted that required the county to take inventory of unknown septic tanks, Petersen said. The county estimates that 70,000 properties in the county use septic systems, but Petersen said there are many tanks that the county doesn’t know about.
Although the regulations are new for Thurston County, similar practices are in effect in other counties and often are standard procedure with lenders and real estate agents.
Pierce County started a similar program in January 2003 and charges a $230 fee, said Jim Hoyle, environmental health specialist for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Pierce County has about 80,000 known septic systems, he added.
Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty has gone through the process on several of its properties, said Ken Anderson, owner and president.
He said additional fees are never good but called the reasoning behind the regulations admirable.
The requirements, minus the county involvement, traditionally are part of the transaction process between buyers and sellers, Anderson said.
“All of us in the real estate business want a good septic system,” he said.
As for the new county regulations?
“Time will tell if there is a benefit,” Anderson said.
Home sales should not be hurt by the fees, he added.
Both the pump and service report and the inspection report must be completed by an on-site sewage system professional who is certified in Thurston County.
The county is limited in what it can do as a result of report findings.
The Health Department can’t prohibit the sale of a property if problems are found, but it will include notices of violations or deficiencies in its report.
Koeser, of Petunia Septic Service, said he doesn’t expect the requirements to create an influx of business because pumping already is required by other institutions before sales are made.
There are exceptions for several of the steps, including waivers for inspections and pumping if either took place less than one year before the property sale. Applications also can be waived in several circumstances, including foreclosures or if the property was a gift or inherited.
Depending on tank size, pumping should be done every two to five years, Petersen said.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org