Rules and regulations when selling a property that has a septic tank

Toilet paper

There is an old English saying, “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”

Nothing is truer when talking about … septic tanks. Okay, I hear a collective groan of “here he goes again” (or is it just the thought of wastewater as you sip your morning coffee?), however, allow me to explain.

There have been suggestions from the powers that be, that we may see a tightening of existing rules and regulations about septic tanks when properties are for sale: being forewarned is to be forearmed.

It is well known that when selling a property that has a septic tank, it’s necessary to have this inspected as part of the pre-sales process and the subsequent report is given to a prospective buyer as part of the purchase contract (Compromis de vente). I have always found it interesting that according to the Civil Urban Code, it is the responsibility of the buyer within one year of purchase to then bring the tank up to norms if there are any anomalies noted.

It has been implied a change may bring the onus back onto the vendor to ensure when selling a house that the septic tank is up to par at time of sale. (I must stress this is absolutely NOT confirmed and in its current proposed form, may even be unworkable.)

My warning is based on the fact that once again we have experienced sales falling through due to lack of pre-planning when selling a house with a septic tank.

I am constantly amazed at how often vendors tell us they will wait until a buyer is found before having the test, the usual excuse being that because the report has a finite life span (valid 3 years), it may expire before a buyer is found. The reality is that most properties should sell well within this time span and having a valid report gives all parties an idea of what to expect before an offer is made. It also allows a current owner to gather together a quotation for any works indicated in the report, as the notaire will ask that the buying client be informed of this obligatory cost before signing a first contract. Without this, the Compromis de vente is unlikely to be signed by potential buyers, who would be committing themselves to an unknown cost.

If you wait until a buyer is found and an offer is on the table, the process is as follows: organise a contrôle de la fosse septique; each commune often has only one company registered to carry out reports, so if you do the math that’s one individual to do all the tests throughout the entire commune. It’s therefore very unlikely this is going to happen tomorrow.

After the control, sometimes weeks after your offer was received, several more days pass while the report is written.

Once received, if it outlines anomalies, one would think it straightforward to get a quotation for works required. Well, like much of the process of buying a house in France, it isn’t quite that simple. Likely a soil test is required before a quote can be given; guess what, there is only likely to be one person in your commune who carries out soil tests. So, after some time said person digs a hole, pours some water in, times how long it takes to disperse and presto, we now know the type of system required on your plot. Except some time has passed since your keen buyer made an excited offer, I imagine in most cases this enthusiasm is beginning to wear off a bit.

Now that we have the report and the soil test, we can approach the fosse installation company. That’s right, the only one around who works in your commune. Yes, this is getting silly now, but stick with me. Our friendly fosse installer comes out, takes a look at your bits of paper and begins the process of creating a quotation for works.

Once received, we present this obligatory cost to your future buyer along with the Compromis de vente to sign, and lo and behold – once he has picked himself up off the floor – we normally go back to the drawing board. That’s assuming he wants to continue his somewhat dwindled interest.

Alternatively, if you prepare all of this and have all of the information on hand as you bring the property to market, when a buyer does come along and makes an acceptable offer, he or she already has the facts about additional costs and a pre-sales contract can be signed much quicker without unforeseen problems and all parties are much, much happier: the vendor can sleep knowing they have sold, the buyer can sleep knowing they have their dream home and your agent can sleep knowing all of the work done to find a buyer won’t be undone by lack of forethought.

Contact local expert Tim Clark of Leggett Immobilier at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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