Septic Systems and Title V in Massachusetts

If you are among the many properties in the Central Massachusetts area, and you are thinking of selling your home or even buying a home, that is service by a private septic system, there are a few things you should know.

The Title V or Title 5 report is an extensive, multi paged document, that specifies the number of bedrooms, location of system and much detailed information about the septic system.  This report is filed with the local towns’ Board of Health Dept. and the records are maintained there.

 IF YOU ARE A BUYER OF A HOME WITH A PRIVATE SEPTIC SYSTEM?

As a potential home buyer in Massachusetts, you will notice listings come on the market that state it’s a 4 bedroom home for sale yet “serviced by a 3 bedroom septic” or “septic system is for a 3 bedroom home” is written in the disclosures that appear in the listing sheets.   What you need to understand is that you CANNOT have a 4 bedroom home serviced by a 3 bedroom septic.  Period.  End of Story.  It’s a 3 bedroom house, and will APPRAISE as such, regardless of the “bonus” room with a closet or bedroom in the basement.  This is bad marketing to get the selling price of a 4 bedroom house.   This is a tactic that a real estate agent will use to get a higher price for the home because they want the pricing to be for a 4 bedroom home.  But legally you cannot have more bedrooms than a septic system is designed for.  So check the Title V report or check the public records to see how many bedrooms the town has the property as having.  There is a reason the septic system was designed the way it was and it is to protect you.  Buyers, and their real estate agents, do not pay enough attention to this fact and ramifications of this.  The cost to upgrade a system to the appropriate number of bedrooms can run in the $1000s.

Another overlooked item when buying a home with a septic system is the Do’s and Don’ts.  If you have never lived in a home with a septic system, you will want to read this and educate yourself and save yourself as a new home owner and the proud owner of a septic system!  Do’s and Don’ts

If the title 5 (title V) report is NOT available when you find your dream home and want to do an offer, your realtor should be putting in the offer the language about the representation of the number of bedrooms and attached the Multiple Listing Sheet (“MLS”) to the offer.  Again, just because there is a disclosure in MLS stating the actual number of bedrooms vs. what is being advertised, doesn’t mean the seller’s agent has “covered” their butts.  Policy cannot contradict the state law.

Another noteworthy item that is often not explained to home buyers is Garbage Disposals and septic systems.  This is found in the Do’s and Don’ts but worthy of its own mentioning – and that is YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE unless it’s septic safe garbage disposal.  I’ve seen passing Title V reports that say “no garage disposal” in the property and when I look under the sink there is one.  The ONLY garbage disposal allowed is one made for private sewerage systems and are septic safe.  Otherwise, you will fail your septic system fast and have the burden of installing a new septic system when you want to sell.  Septics are for human waste – not food.

IF YOU ARE A SELLER OF A HOME WITH A PRIVATE SEPTIC SYSTEM?

When you are a seller of a home in Massachusetts that is serviced by a private septic system, one of the first things you need to do is have the septic system and get Title V (Title 5) report completed.  As Massachusetts Realtors involved in many, many sales, it’s amazing to us that many sellers would prefer to wait until they have an offer and this is a mistake because buyers typically will not want to write an offer on a home until they know the septic has passed the inspection.  No one wants to waste time going through offer process and home inspection and some of the mortgage process to find out later that the system failed and a new system has to be installed which will extend everything by weeks and weeks.  So for the cost of the inspection and report, it’s worth it.  It will show buyers that you are a serious seller and ready to go.

The Title V Report is valid for 2 years and can be extended to 3 years if you maintain your pumping records.  So this is not a waste of money for you as a home seller in Massachusetts.

SEPTIC SYSTEM FAILURE

Should the system fail for one reason or another, there is help.  Not all systems fail completely.  Sometimes the distribution box is cracked, which, in terms of failures, this is probably the base case scenario because it’s a less costly repair and fairly simple.

If the system completely fails, the failure is then reported to the town and starts the clock ticking on the repair.  Once the town is notified, you have 2 years to make the repairs or install a new system.  It could be less depending upon the town determining if the failure is a health hazard.

Since the cost of installing a new system or repairing a septic system can be a financial burden, some towns offer assistance with the installation.  This assistance does come with restrictions on selling your home and paying back the town so you would need to check with your town for their guidelines.

For more information, see the useful links below.

Related Articles:
Massachusetts Title V Rules
Mass Housing
Title 5 Septic Tax Credit FAQ
Mass.gov

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