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Real Estate Matters: Homeowner seeks advice for dealing with failed septic system

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: We found out a couple of months ago that the leach field of our septic system has failed. The field is on our neighbor’s property. It was our neighbor who turned us in to the local code enforcer.

A little history: We bought the house from a contractor who was selling the house. He denied knowing anything about the septic system. We found out that both properties were owned by the same person and then the properties were split up.

The town is now requiring us to fix the system at a cost of $25,000; plus we’ll have to pay an additional $2,000 for an engineer. If we don’t get the septic system fixed, the town will give us a summons and we’ll have to vacate the house.

Here’s the problem: We’re unable to come up with the money. We already have a home equity loan and have tried HUD, FHA and other grants to no avail. We are wondering if the title insurance company can be held liable in this situation. Otherwise, we’re at a loss about what to do to remedy the situation and stay in our home. Do you have any suggestions?

A: You’re in a truly tough situation and for that we’re sorry.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with septic systems, when you don’t have access to a municipal sewer system, you need a place to send your household waste water. A septic system takes in that household waste water and uses sewer treating technologies (along with a little help from Mother Nature) to release the water in a cleaner form. The leach field, also known as the septic drain field, is the actual place where the impurities are removed from the household wastewater. This happens underground, so the septic field might look like a grassy space or an open field.


So, yours has failed. The first question for you to consider is whether it matters that the septic system isn’t actually on your property.

You didn’t mention why your system failed or whether you can make repairs to the existing system. We suspect your neighbors got involved because they want you to stop using their land for your septic system.

But here’s where it might get interesting. You might have an easement over your neighbor’s yard to continue to use the septic system as it is today. There is a concept in the law that gives the owner of a piece of land the right to use another’s property under certain circumstances.

We suspect that there is no written agreement regarding your septic system, but you mentioned that your home was part of a larger parcel of land that was subdivided before you purchased it. We also suspect that a former owner of your property sold off a chunk of the original parcel to the neighbor.


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