Why You Need a Sewer Lateral Inspection When Selling a Home

Sewer

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Are you putting your home on the market in Santa Cruz? Not before you schedule your sewer lateral inspection, you won’t!

Lateral sewers impact the environment and local waterways, which means it’s important to keep them in good working condition. A leak or spill can send human waste straight into local groundwater and California waterways and become an environmental and public health disaster.

Everyone has an obligation to keep their sewer lateral in good working order and that includes residential property owners.

What are your obligations before selling your home in Santa Cruz? Here’s what you need to know.

The City of Santa Cruz Requires an Inspection 

Sewer inspections are an important part of selling your home in Santa Cruz because the city requires it before you’re allowed to close. As of June 26, 2018, the Santa Cruz City Council requires all property owners to have the sewer lateral inspected by an authorized inspector before selling.

Why is this the case? The city decided to take a harder line on private sewer lines after recording over 100 reported spills between 2015 and 2018. During that period, there were over 100 incidences of spills seeping out of home owner’s sewers and onto the city sidewalks and streets. The rule also addresses the contamination in the San Lorenzo River, which the California Water Board says is caused in part by leaks from city lateral sewers.

When you get your sewer inspected, you receive either a Pass or Fail from the inspector. If it passes, the inspection form goes to the city and the city then issues your Sanitary Sewer Certificate for your sale. Only when you have your Sanitary Sewer Certificate can you sell your home.

Failing the inspection doesn’t need to be a disaster. You have two paths forward. The first option is to repair the sewer and get a second inspection. If you pass the second one, then you can get your Sanitary Sewer Certificate.

However, you also have the option to pass the responsibility for repair onto your buyers. If the buyer agrees, the city of Santa Cruz then certifies it and issues your Transfer of Responsibility. Then, you can sell the home.

eep in mind that not all buyers will be interested in repairing the sewer. After all, they can buy it, but they must repair the damaged lateral within 90 days after closing and then seek a second inspection.

Does Every Home in Santa Cruz County Need an Inspection?

No, the inspection rule only applies within the Santa Cruz City Council’s sanitation district’s jurisdiction.

It doesn’t mean you don’t ever need a sewer inspection if you live outside city limits or in another incorporated area. Getting an inspection is a good idea, particularly if you’re seeing signs of plumbing or waste issues. Falling outside the boundary only means you don’t need the related paperwork to sell your home. Are There Any Exemptions? Yes, there are exemptions to the inspection rule.

First, you don’t need an inspection on a lateral constructed within 20 years of the date of your sale. If you want to sell in 2021, the sewer lateral must have been built in 2001 or later to avoid the pre-sale inspection.

You also don’t need an inspection to sell if you have already passed an inspection in the past five years.

What is a Private Sewer Lateral?

If you live in city limits and access the public sewer, you might wonder why you need an inspection. Shouldn’t the sewer be the city’s responsibility?

While the sewer main (hidden under the street) is the city’s responsibility, your sewer lateral (connecting your home to the main) is your responsibility as the property owner. You own the land and that the sewer lateral operates on, and therefore you’re responsible for making sure it directs your waste to the sewer main.

What’s Involved in a Sewer Inspection?

If you want to sell a home in Santa Cruz, you must work with a city-certified inspector. A run-of-the-mill home inspector, such as the one hired by buyers, won’t work. A city-certified plumber and inspector will have the specialist camera equipment needed to access the sewer and check it appropriately.

The cost of your inspection depends on your sewer access. If your property features an outside cleanout drain, then your sewer is more easily accessible and the inspection usually costs less.

An outside sewer cleanout is a pipe connected to your mainline under the ground. It is a line that runs vertically between your main sewer line and the ground. Each outside sewer cleanout has a cap.

Missing your outside sewer cleanout? Your inspection may cost more as your sewer lateral is more difficult to access.

When Should You Order Your Sewer Lateral Inspection?

Ideally, you should order your inspection before listing your home on the market, particularly if your sewer lateral is very old. Waiting until you have an offer from a buyer is a bad idea because if you find issues, you can slow the sale or even watch great offers walk out the door.

If you have been following guidelines and inspection schedules anyway, you should have nothing to worry about. It’s a simple matter of calling one of the city’s certified plumbers and making an appointment.

An annual inspection is a great idea for preventing serious sewer lateral issues and the associated fines. If you have an older sewer (ten years or older), consider getting it cleaned every six months to keep it in good working order and prevent major damage and eventual spills.

Get Your Paperwork in Order Before Selling a House in Santa Cruz

Scheduling regular sewer lateral inspections and cleanings is part of being a homeowner. Most major issues, including resulting spills and leaks, can be prevented with regular maintenance and cleaning.

Your sewer lateral inspection becomes even more important when you decided to sell your Santa Cruz property. The city requires you to not only get an inspection but pass it and get certification to pass on to the buyer.

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