Both the price and value of real estate in the Bay State continues to rise, leaving many feeling priced out of their local markets -- particularly those who have only recently entered the job market or who took out home equity loans just before the last bubble burst and have been trying to regain equity in the meantime. As a result, many prospective homeowners are looking toward older properties that may need some renovations but are available at a much lower cost than new. This can sometimes mean purchasing a property that has a cesspool or sewage pit rather than a septic tank or public sewer connection. Is this a good idea, or could you be facing expensive and mandatory repairs upon purchase? Read on to learn more about your options (and your rights) when purchasing a Massachusetts home with a cesspool.
Is a cesspool legal in Massachusetts?
Unlike a septic tank, which provides chambers in which solids can settle (and be broken down by bacteria) while filtering liquids into the leach field through the tank's concrete sides, a cesspool contains a settling chamber and leaching system in the same pit. This can cause problems if the pit is located in an area that doesn't drain well or is prone to flooding, as the higher the water level in the surrounding soil, the greater the odds that your drains will begin backing up as soon as it starts raining. Because of the potential for soil contamination, backflow issues, and other problems, the Massachusetts government has prohibited the installation of cesspools in all new construction.
What are you required to do after purchasing a home with a cesspool?
Many home buyers tend to pass on homes with cesspools (even those that have been otherwise updated) under the mistaken belief that they'll be required to immediately spend money converting to septic or paying for a public sewer connection. However, under the principle of "maximum feasible compliance" (MFC), you'll be permitted to do what you can with your existing system unless your cesspool has begun to show signs of failure, is causing contamination of the local groundwater supply, or is exhibiting other problems (like leaking into your neighbor's yard) that have brought it into public nuisance territory. Any such issues should be disclosed by the sellers or uncovered during a home inspection.
If you do opt to keep your cesspool as-is rather than convert to a septic tank or pay for a sewer hookup, you'll want to have your cesspool inspected regularly to ensure it's not developing any issues. Catching problems early allows you to fix them before they become major health or safety hazards and can be a much cheaper alternative to emergency repairs.
Contact a professional with Title 5 expertise for more help.