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Shining the LAMP on Septic Regulations

By Datta Khalsa, Broker

One of the best aspects of writing on the various real estate topics that I cover in my recurring columns is the responses I get. My sphere increases with these interactions, and the ensuing discussions are informative and provide an opportunity to further increase my knowledge on the topic which I can then share with the other readers. To that end, this week I received a response to my recent column on upcoming changes to the county’s septic regulations from a septic designer with 28 years of hydrogeological field practice and two geological degrees providing his insights and some direct feedback on several points.

He began by pointing out that the LAMP acronym for the County’s Septic Program stands for Local Area Management Plan. I had incorrectly referred to it in my column as the Land Area Management Plan, so a retraction is in order there. More importantly, he went on to share that he felt the article failed to properly convey the importance of the driving reason behind the County Environmental Health Department’s changes to the regulations, which is to protect the environment and the people by using Point of Sale as a way of addressing undersized or failing septic systems.

He also cited the long history of coverups and oversights by unscrupulous sellers and their agents knowingly or unknowingly passing off substandard systems to the buyer who is then saddled with the task of getting it brought up to current standards. As part of their process of improving things, Environmental Health is using more restrictive definitions to include rooms like dens, offices, and sewing rooms as potential bedrooms to be considered in the system design for the property. He also suggested that my statement about the increased standards for leach field separation would be more responsibly revised to state “Gone are the days where the county allows you to install your leach field at any depth whether it causes water quality degradation or not.”

The designer closed his letter sharing the story of a client of his who purchased a 2-bedroom home in Boulder Creek in 2019 and the septic system immediately started to fail. His client had to change the way in which water was used, taking all clothing at a laundromat, using paper plates often and is required to have the septic tank pumped several times a year. Upon document review, the system had been failing for many years. It was determined by the new homeowner that the septic pumper and seller’s realtor conspired to hide this fact even though the public health documents at Environmental Health reported otherwise. His client sued and the case was settled in the buyer’s favor.

He expressed that the buyer needs protection more than the seller in these cases, and the new process will help keep cases like this from happening. And I wholeheartedly agree that while the new POS standard does place more burden on those involved in the process of selling a home, ultimately this will be a good thing in raising the standard for everyone.

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