For many Ontarians, a rural home or cottage provides an escape from the noise and the hustle and bustle of the city. However, the farther you get from the city, the farther you’re getting from municipal water and sewer systems. When a property is reliant on well and septic systems, you should ensure that your buyer or seller is well-informed about their current state, and how to keep them in good condition.

Here at RECO, we occasionally receive complaints related to wells and septic systems. Often, these issues could have been prevented with a little more due diligence.

For example, one buyer discovered too late that the listing registrant had failed to include the existence of a well in the listing information. Maintaining a well was more work than the buyer had hoped for in their new home, so they filed a complaint with RECO.

This was the registrant’s first offence, and they were given a written warning and ordered to take a course. However, depending on the circumstances, a first offence could lead to a discipline hearing, or even prosecution in the Ontario Court of Justice.

Oversights can also expose a registrant to legal action by either party involved in the trade and cause harm to their reputation. When it comes to wells and septics, if you’re acting on behalf of the seller, it is important to ask questions and keep a written record of any information regarding the existence and condition of a well or septic system together with copies of any supporting records, permits, etc.

If you are representing a buyer, it is important that you keep your client informed and seek out the proper documentation and inspections if necessary in order to avoid any unexpected surprises after the after the deal closes.

If the home has a septic system, you should insist on acquiring the proper documentation before your client even places an offer on the property. This includes the date the tank was installed, where the septic system is located on the property and that it was installed in accordance with Ministry of the Environment standards. If the seller does not have these documents, they should be available at the local health unit or the Ministry of the Environment, depending on the jurisdiction. You should also ask to see the service records for the septic system and retain copies.

The records will also indicate whether maintenance on the system was performed in accordance to the standards set out by the Ministry of the Environment.

It’s important for you to protect a buyer and make their offer conditional on test results of the water’s quality and quantity, as well as an inspection of the well or septic system by appropriate trained professional.

Owning property in the country appeals to many homebuyers, so double-checking the condition of the well and septic system is a key step to ensuring your clients can enjoy their home away from home.

Contributed by Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO)

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