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Why You Need a Sewer Lateral Inspection When Selling a Home

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

Lateral sewers impact the environment and local waterways, so keeping them in good working condition is essential. A leak or spill can send human waste into local groundwater and California waterways, becoming an environmental and public health disaster.

Everyone, including residential property owners, must keep their sewer lateral in good working order.

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 essential to selling your home in Santa Cruz because the city requires them 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, over 100 incidences of spills seeped 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 partly caused by leaks from lateral city sewers.

When you inspect your sewer, you receive either a Pass or Fail from the inspector. If it passes, the inspection form goes to the city, and the town 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. You can get your Sanitary Sewer Certificate if you pass the second one.

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 and issues your Transfer of Responsibility. Then, you can sell the home.

Remember 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 seek a second inspection.

Does Every Home in Santa Cruz County Need an Inspection?

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

It doesn’t mean you never need a sewer inspection if you live outside city limits or in another incorporated area. Getting an inspection is a good idea, mainly if you see 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 your sale date. If you wanted 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 within 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 sewer lateral’s land, so you’re responsible for making sure it directs your waste to the sewer main.

What’s Involved in a Sewer Inspection?

To sell a home in Santa Cruz, you must work with a city-certified inspector. A run-of-the-mill home inspector like the one buyers hire won’t perform. A city-certified plumber and inspector will have the specialist camera equipment needed to access and check the sewer appropriately.

The cost of your inspection depends on your sewer access. If your property features an outside cleanout drain, 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.

Are you missing your outside sewer cleanout? Your inspection may cost more as your sewer lateral is more challenging 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.

Following guidelines and inspection schedules, you should have nothing to worry about. It’s simple to call one of the city’s certified plumbers and make an appointment.

An annual inspection is excellent for preventing serious sewer lateral issues and the associated fines. If you have an older sewer (ten years or older), consider cleaning it every six months to keep it in good working order and prevent significant 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 significant issues, including spills and leaks, can be prevented with regular maintenance and cleaning.

Your sewer lateral inspection becomes even more critical when you decide 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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