Massachusetts Title 5 Requirements
One of the first things I do when I meet with a potential client who is thinking about selling their Massachusetts home is explain the Title 5 septic system law if the property does not have public sewer. You will also see this referenced as Title V as well.
When your home is being serviced by a septic system, one of the most important considerations is getting your Title 5 certification done. The last thing you want is a problem with your septic system!
As a Massachusetts Realtor who is involved in numerous home sales, it always amazes me how some sellers are so lackadaisical about getting their title 5 inspection taken care of before putting their home on the market. At the very least the inspection should be done within the first few weeks the home is posted for sale. Anyone who has ever had a failed title 5 can tell you what an ordeal it is to deal with.
The financial burden that a failed septic system creates can be pretty substantial for the majority of folks. The cost to put in a new title 5 compliant septic system can range from $10,000 to $50,000 or more depending on the soil conditions, water table and whether ledge is encountered.
Aside from the unplanned financial headache, it also involves excavating your yard to install a new system.
So what happens if your Massachusetts title 5 septic system fails and you do not pass the Title V inspection?
If you are put in this unfortunate position, you will need to get in touch with an engineer and the local board of health in the town in which you are located. The link provided is an excellent reference for the Board of Health roster for Massachusetts. The engineer you use will determine if there is a “reserve area” on the original septic system design that would allow for additional leach trenches to be added.
If the engineer determines that a reserve area is not possible, then a new septic system design will have to be drawn up. The septic design will be based on the soil testing that will be done. These tests are known as “perks and deep holes.” The perk test will determine how quickly the soil leaches and the deep hole test will ascertain the level of the water table. Soils that have gravel are more suitable for septic systems than those with clay and rock. A higher water table also is not a beneficial when it involves septic systems. With a high water table you may need to have what is called a “raised system” where additional soils need to be brought in, and unfortunately, a hill is created in your yard.
Over the years I have lost a couple of sales because the topography of the land had changed from what the buyer originally thought they were buying.
Once the septic system design is completed and approved by the board of health the next step is to send it out for bid to a few septic system installers. I would recommend that your obtain at least three bids. In my experience, I have seen these estimates vary quite a bit.
If you are in the middle of a Real Estate transaction and find out your septic system has failed and it will not be able to be repaired or replaced prior to the closing, the lender giving the buyer a loan will most likely require you to escrow 1.5 times the average of the estimates to fix or replace the system.
For example, if the cost of replacing the septic system is $25,000 you are going to be required to escrow $37,500. It should be noted that not every mortgage lender will allow a septic escrow. The buyer may end up having to wait until the installation is complete or find another lender who will allow an escrow.
After reading this, you are probably coming to the conclusion that getting your title v septic inspection completed is critical and a big hurdle to clear especially if you have an older system. If you are in the unfortunate position where you need to replace your septic system, there are a few programs to ease the burden. See the Loan and tax credit information below:
Massachusetts Septic Loan Program
If your septic system has failed the Title 5 inspection, there is a loan program in Massachusetts that can help ease the financial pain. Participating lenders offer low-interest rates to eligible homeowners through this Massachusetts Housing Program.
Massachusetts Septic Tax Credit
When failing a title 5, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides a tax credit of up to $6,000 over four years to defray the cost of septic repairs to a primary residence. Forms are available from the Department of Revenue (DOR) to allow homeowners to claim up to $6,000 in tax credits for septic upgrades. The credit cannot exceed $1,500 in any year and may be spread out over four years. The tax credit will only be issued for work done on a primary residence and not an investment property or 2nd home. Tax Form Schedule SC is the correct form for the tax credits. You can get the for at the
MassDOR Web site.
You may be wondering how this all applies to cesspools. Cesspools are much harder to pass in Massachusetts. Does every single cesspool automatically fail? NO.
Only those cesspools that exhibit signs of hydraulic failure are located very close to private or public water supplies, or otherwise, do not protect or pose a threat to the public health, safety or the environment will need to be changed to septic systems. Also, cesspools must be upgraded prior to an increase in the design flow. As an example, if there is a bedroom addition put on the home.
In the event you decide not to sell your home a Massachusetts Title 5 is good for two years from the date it is completed. It can also be extended for a 3rd year if it is pumped in both years.
Massachusetts Title 5 Septic systems and Bedroom Counts
One other important matter concerning the Title V and septic systems is the proper representation of bedrooms in a home.
According to errors and omission insurance for Massachusetts Realtors, one of the areas that have drawn the most recent litigation is the misrepresentation of bedrooms when the home is serviced by a septic system.
Septic systems are rated according to their bedroom capacity. When someone says the septic system is “rated” for four bedrooms, it means that the system will handle the waste generated by four bedrooms. It has nothing to do with a number of bathrooms in a home! This makes perfect sense because a septic system gets taxed by the number of occupants not the number of bathrooms.
Where sellers and Realtors put themselves into a potential legal bind is when there are rooms in a home that are counted and marketed as bedrooms when in fact they are not.
As an example, you could have a home that has three bedrooms on the 2nd floor and another room on the 1st floor that is marketed as a “bedroom.” It may by all definitions meet the requirements of a bedroom such as having a closet and a window large enough for a person to fit through.
The problem, however, is if the home has a septic system that is rated for only three bedrooms, it is not a four bedroom home and should not be marketed as such.
The misrepresentation occurs when the seller or Realtor represents this room to be a bedroom through various marketing channels such as the multiple listing service (MLS) or other written material.
The buyer relies on the information provided, only to later find out through town hall, the title v or other means that the home is in fact not a four bedroom home. There are certainly differences in market value between three and four bedroom homes regardless of the overall size of the house.
Another example would be a home that has an addition, and the room that was added is called a bedroom, but there has been no corresponding “upgrade” to the septic system.
Whenever there is any doubt about the bedroom count, a Realtor should verify the records to determine the correct information. This information can usually be found at the local board of health records or on the septic design. If there has been a Title V inspection already done on the property, it will be in the report as well.
For those that have really never thought much about how septic systems work I have provided a neat little video below. The video is a terrific tutorial of how a septic system functions.
Other Title 5 Septic System Resources Worth Reading:
- All about septic systems and Massachusetts title 5 by Mass.Gov.
- Common questions asked about the Massachusetts title 5 laws via Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries.
- General provisions 310 CMR 15.00 and enforcement of the title v laws in Massachusetts via Mass.Gov.
- A list of approved soil evaluators and title 5 inspectors in the state of Massachusetts provided by Mass.Gov.
Use these additional Massachusetts Title 5 septic system references to better educate yourself on the laws when selling a home.
The above Real Estate information on Massachusetts title 5 septic system law was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 30+ Years.
Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.