Four years ago, the Ohio Department of Health adopted new rules regarding private sewage treatment systems (STSs).
These rules require each health departments across the state to implement a local operation and maintenance (O&M) program to monitor and ensure the proper function of STSs in their jurisdictions.
The Huron County Public Health (HCPH) board implemented the O&M program March 25.
“The inspection (aspect) was always there. Now it’s going to be an inspection and testing,” Huron County Auditor Roland Tkach said of what the program will require of those looking to purchase their own home.
The O&M program requires every STS in the county to have an O&M permit. Permits will ensure systems are monitored and maintained on a regular basis so that failing systems may be identified and addressed. A STS that isn’t properly functioning can release bacteria, viruses and chemicals into the groundwater and local waterways. This poses a risk of spreading various diseases in the community, as well as polluting drinking water and the environment.
Other health departments in the area either already have implemented, or plan to implement a similar program. The Sandusky County Health Department intends to begin the process later this year, with implementation taking place early in 2020. Public health officials in Erie County could not be reached for comment.
Effects on real estate process
Norwalk Realtor Frank Van Dresser said the process will “definitely add a few steps to the process.” He said Realtors around the county are trying to gain as much education on the process as possible. Van Dresser added it’s good for both home buyers and sellers to understand as well.
He said cost for the program will be $300 for a permitted system to be assessed. An un-permitted system will cost about the same after homeowners submit to the additional process of effluence testing (for those who have an off-lot septic system). The effluence testing requires that at least two of five tests come back with good results. In both cases, the money must be paid upfront.
Van Dresser said in a real estate process, there are some inspections that are expected to be paid by the seller, while others are expected to covered by the buyer. He said so far there are no expectations with the sewage treatment system fees. He did note it would be good for the seller to consider having the tests done in advance of listing the home.
“The state has deemed you cannot do this evaluation on a vacant property,” Van Dresser said. “So the trouble is if the property is vacant, the buyer will have to accept the property as is. I would say I would want the seller to understand that’s huge and to understand that if they would ever dream of moving out of their home, they should just have this evaluation done. It’s a one-and-done evaluation. You don’t have to do it again once it’s checked. ... At the least, as a seller, you should make sure you do not move out of your house until after you have this inspection.”
Even if the inspection does reveal issues in the system, Van Dresser said buyers and sellers shouldn’t fear too much. He said the county has given homeowners 10 years to fix any issues that are found.
“They’re not trying to kill real estate; they’re just trying to keep up (with the best practices) and to keep the control at the county level, instead of having the state take over, which I don’t think anyone wants,” Van Dresser said.
Who does this affect?
All Huron County properties with a STS will be entered into the mandatory O&M program via one of the following ways:
1. Property transfer: Properties that transfer ownership after March 25 will be entered into the program. Properties that are under contract with a buyer before March 25 will be exempt from being entered into the O&M program due to property transfer. For a full listing of exemptions for a property transfer visit www.huro0ncohealth.com/O&M.
2. Self-entry: Huron County residents may elect to be entered into the program early by contacting HCPH.
3. Public health nuisance: If a STS is found to be causing a public health nuisance, according to Ohio Revised Code 3718, the property will be entered into the O&M program.
4. Risk priority: HCPH will use risk factors such as age of the system, potential waterway contamination and other factors to determine the order in which all other STSs in the county will be entered into the O&M program.
Once a property is entered into the program, the health department will determine if an existing installation permit is on file for the property. If no permit is on file, property owners may choose to have a STS component verification completed. However, if the property owners choose not to have the system verified and/or the system components cannot be verified, a STS will need to be installed on the property.
Properties that have an existing installation permit or properties whose STS components can be verified will be evaluated to determine if the system is causing a public health nuisance according to Ohio Revised Code 3718. If no nuisance is found, an O&M permit will be issued. If a nuisance is found to be occurring, the property owner will need to work with HCPH to repair and/or replace their STS to eliminate the public health nuisance.
For more information about the O&M program, visit www.huroncohealth.com/O&M.
Van Dresser said an informational meeting for real estate professionals, community leaders and others with a strong, serious interest in the program, will be April 23. Sessions will be held at 9 a.m., 1 and 5 p.m. He especially strongly encouraged all Realtors to attend a session.
“You really have to understand this because it really is going to impact the business and the whole industry,” Van Dresser said. “We want to make sure the buyers and sellers are able to understand everything in the process and all are treated fairly.”