When it comes to Title 5 there is a lot of information floating around out there. But how much do you really know? Most people know that Title 5 has to do with septic systems, and whether they pass or fail; that is about where average knowledge stops. Yet, there is so much more you should know — as a home owner, seller, or buyer. This guide will give information that is useful for residential Title 5 codes and regulations. I know what you’re thinking…”Oh Great, she is talking about codes, here we go again.” Yes, I will be talking about codes again and again and again. I read through the Code book for Title 5, (which was 97 pages long!) and I can assure you it was long, tedious, and boring. So, I am hoping I was able to cut out what you don’t need and make a clean, easy guide for you to follow.
Let’s get started with some definitions to give you a better idea of what we will be talking about.
Title 5: Massachusetts State Environmental Code for the regulations of septic systems, as well as the transport and disposal of sanitary sewerage
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP): Regulates Title 5 codes, oversees Local Board of Health for variance requests, and certain other approvals. Also provides training, technical assistance, as well as certifying/approving inspectors.
Conventional Septic System: A type of Onsite Wastewater Treatment System(OWTS) consisting of 3 major parts
- Tank- for solids to degrade and be broken down by bacteria.
- Distribution Box- Distributes liquid waste equally through two or more lines leading to the SAS
- Soil Absorption System (SAS)- System into which partially treated wastewater moves to for final treatment to remove bacteria, viruses, phosphorous, and nitrogen; also called a leaching field
Cesspool: A pit-like settling chamber for solids and a leaching system for liquids. Can overload the ground with bacteria, viruses, phosphorous, and nitrogen.
Tight Tanks: Similar to septic tanks, however no outlet and must be pumped regularly (Title 5 discourages use, yet allowed where septic has failed and no feasible alternative, not compliant for new construction or to increase allowance).
Maximum Feasible Compliance (MFC): Where feasible, a failed system must be upgraded to full Title 5 compliance. “Do the best with what you’ve got.”
Zone II: Public water supply such as an aquifer that contributes to a well or drinking water.
Nitrogen Sensitive Areas: Areas determined by MassDEP to be sensitive to nitrogen pollution. ie: wellhead areas, runoff areas, and Zone II areas.
Who controls Title 5 inspections?
So, we know MassDEP controls regulations, however it is the Local Board of Health that deals with Title 5 inspections and compliance. MassDEP has specific forms for approved inspectors to fill out and file with the town. If a septic system fails, the Local Board of Health oversees any necessary improvements/upgrades to bring the system up to code.
When is a Title 5 Inspection Required?
A Title 5 inspection is required whenever a property or deed transfers to new owners. The inspection is good for 2 years, or up to 3 years if the system has been pumped annually and proper records are available. Some specific transfers where an inspection is always required would be for a foreclosure, bankruptcy, tax taking by the government while going to a new owner, or the sale of an individual condo or condo units. Instances where an inspection is not required are for new construction or an upgraded system with a certificate of compliance from the Local Board of Health or MassDEP. Inspection is also not required for refinancing, issuance of mortgage, change of trustee/conservator, ownership change where no new parties are involved, a transfer between family members such as spouse to spouse, parent to child, or sibling to full sibling. Or, if an owner and acquirer sign an enforceable agreement stating septic will either a) be replaced, or b) hooked up to sewerage.
Who is Responsible for What in a Sale?
The owner/operator is responsible for obtaining an inspection prior to the transfer of a property, unless both parties agree to contractually allocate responsibility on to the buyer. In either case, a MassDEP-approved inspector must complete an inspection and submit the proper and legal paperwork within 30 days of the completion for Title 5 inspection to be valid for transfer of the property. The only exception is due to weather constraints, such as frozen ground in the winter, in which case the inspection must be completed as soon as weather permits, or within 6 months of the transfer. The owner/operator is also legally responsible for any repairs or upgrades to a failed system. However, the buyer and seller can make a financial agreement as part of the sale, which does not require a working septic, however, keep in mind that most lenders will not approve a mortgage without a working septic. Also, a seller is still contractually obligated to repair or replace a septic if it fails a Title 5, even if they decide to pull it off the market. Note that there are assistance programs available such as financing, grants, and tax credits to help make Title 5 compliance more affordable.
Does a Buyer have any Rights?
The answer is a resounding YES! As a buyer, Title 5 grants specific rights to you. It requires that a copy of the official inspection report be provided to any buyer or acquirer. The inspection report is intended to provide the buyer with sufficient and adequate information on the condition of the Title 5. It is Not a guarantee that the system won’t fail or will continue to work at a later date. In addition, as a buyer if you have a complaint you can contact your local MassDEP office, they will review the complaint and determine if any action is needed. Or, if you feel there are any alterations or falsifications to the documents, you can contact the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force @ 1-888-VIOLATE.
What is actually Checked during an Inspection?
There are a multitude of items on the inspection check list. I have included a link to the official inspection form Here, if you feel you’d like to review it, or see precisely what is included. Basically, an inspector is checking for proper maintenance, and function. The inspection ensures that no drains are backing up, toilets are functional, there are no leaking or broken pipes, the system is not overflowing into the yard, basement, or house, the SAS is working properly, is not over saturating the soil, and contaminates are properly breaking down. They also check any records on file of install dates, any upgrades or repairs, when they were done, and who did them.
You have made it through another Home-it-All info session! Hopefully this helped to clear up any confusion you had regarding residential Title 5 codes, regulations, and rights. Feel free to submit any questions you may have about Title 5s that I did not cover. I am more than happy to help answer them.