The hidden gems of rural and not so rural drainage

The hidden gems of rural and not so rural drainage

When buying a house do you know what kind of issues are checked by your solicitor during the transaction? It is the role of your conveyancer to ensure that the property you are purchasing is legally sound, the rights of clients are protected during the transaction and your new property is not carrying any hidden liabilities.

A lot of our legal work is reviewing properties in rural areas throughout Norfolk which do not have access to mains drainage i.e. sewers. In the absence of effluent infrastructure, a number of independent sewerage systems can be utilised to provide rural sanitation. However, each type brings with it a raft of regulations and potential pitfalls, with large sums of money at risk if they are not up to scratch.

So what are the sewage systems and where do I stand legally if I am buying a property affected?

  • Cesspits

Historically, cesspits were the most common system used when public health concerns reared in the mid-1800s. They remained the most popular method of sewerage disposal for many years. Cesspits were originally made from bricks loosely fashioned into a cylinder. This means that liquid effluent leaks into the surrounding ground. Needless to say, this is a big "no no" nowadays. This form of sewerage disposal has historically led to Typhoid and Cholera epidemics in built up areas through the pollution of groundwater. In modern times, any un-filtered effluent which enters the ground or a watercourse can lead to prosecution by the Environment Agency, resulting in a £20,000 fine or even three months imprisonment.

  • Cesspools

Cesspools are similar to cesspits, except that they are fully waterproof containers with inbuilt ventilation to allow for the release of gases. The use of cesspools is still common in rural areas and we often come across houses which still use this form of waste disposal. The release of these gases is certainly not something we believe you would want lingering at your new property, and the pool itself must be emptied every 45 days in order to comply with building regulations. This means that the running costs of a cesspools are extraordinarily high.

  • Septic Tanks

Septic Tanks are more sophisticated in that they use a drainage field to treat and filter liquid waste as it drains into the surrounding land. The tank itself must be emptied regularly (at least once a year or more) and the tank must be frequently inspected and maintained. This can also be a hidden cost for your new property and again causes a bad odour.

This has been the case for the new home owners at Wroxham's Wherry Gardens housing development, who have been suffering with 18 months of foul smelling daily sewerage removals.

EDP Property News 11th January 2017

**Update 2nd July 2019. On 1 January 2015 the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2014 came into force and created the General binding rules (GBR) for septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants for domestic use. Failure to comply with General binding rules (GBR) by the deadline of 1 January 2020 can result in sanctions by the Environment Agency.

  • Sewerage Treatment Plants

Finally, sewerage treatment plants are the most sophisticated method of sewerage disposal. They use a several sections which assist in the process of purifying waste. In general, it is considered that discharge from this type of system is around 95% clean.

A recent property transaction in rural Norfolk saw the discovery of a septic tank that was over 100 years old buried in the garden! If our client had gone ahead and purchased this property with a septic tank which is not fit for use, it would have been their responsibility to fully decommission that system and install a compliant system, with costs likely to range into the £10,000s.

For septic tanks, and sewerage treatment plants, the General Binding Rules now apply. These rules have been in effect from the 1st January 2015 and apply new stringent conditions. This includes a complete ban on septic tanks draining to any watercourse or ditch, with an obligation to remedy any infractions before 2020 or on a sale of the property. In addition to this, the rules also contain provisions relating to:

  • Standard, quality and regulatory approval for systems
  • Strict rules on the capacity of any sewerage system
  • General maintenance and emptying
  • Decommissioning
  • Information required by purchasers of land containing a sewerage system.

Our legal advisers are able to assist you with any of the issues raised above, and are fully committed to ensuring that your new house purchase goes through without any hidden liabilities.

To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Property Solicitors are on hand to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.