When selling or choosing to purchase a property in Santa Cruz County, it is crucial for one to be aware of local ordinances and regulations, particularly those related to Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS). In 2022, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors implemented changes to the County Code governing Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS), which affect sellers and buyers alike. This blog post aims to provide an overview of the local disclosure requirements and potential considerations for mountain property owners regarding their OWTS in Santa Cruz County.
Summary of Ordinance
Starting July 1, 2023 under the Santa Cruz County Code Chapter 7.38, sellers of real property are now required to complete a point-of-sale septic inspection to identify any defects in their OWTS. If the inspection reveals a failing septic system, the seller must either make the necessary repairs to meet the County's OWTS standards before the property sale or transfer the responsibility to the buyer for completion. The County Code also includes design requirements for repair/replacement of existing OWTS or installation of new systems, which may require the use of Enhanced Treatment Systems in certain cases.
The point of sale (POS) inspection is outlined below:
- The pumping inspection reports must be submitted via the Santa Cruz County LWH App.
- The pumping inspection must be conducted and reported within the preceding six months of the property sale.
- A leach field flow test must be performed.
- The leachfield flow test for a point-of-sale inspection must be conducted while utilizing a mechanical flow meter to verify that a minimum of 250 gallons of water has been used.
Upgrade or Installation of New OWTS
Buyers should be aware of circumstances that may necessitate an upgrade or installation of a new OWTS to comply with the County Code. These circumstances include:
- Addition of a bedroom or sleep space.
- Addition of an ADU or additional structures.
- Addition of more than 500 square feet to the property.
- Change in property use leading to increased wastewater flow.
- Past unpermitted work on the OWTS or property structures.
Property Conditions Affecting OWTS Design
Certain property conditions may affect the design of an OWTS, potentially requiring the use of an Enhanced Treatment System. Buyers are advised to consult a Qualified Professional, a licensed or certified individual with expertise in evaluating, designing, and installing OWTS. Some property conditions to consider include:
- Encroachment of the leach field or septic tank into required setbacks.
- Easements related to neighboring properties.
- Groundwater levels and clearance to the groundwater table.
- Parcel constraints such as soil conditions, slopes, floodplains, and setbacks.
- Wells and well agreements with neighbors.
- Multiple existing OWTS on the property.
- Greywater systems, water softeners, and garbage disposals.
- Non-compliance with current standards for tank sizing, leachfields, or setbacks.
- Unpermitted changes or alterations to the OWTS.
- Discrepancies in sleeping spaces between records.
Failure to Comply
It is mandatory for all residential or commercial properties to have a properly functioning OWTS or adequate connection to a public sewer. The County has the authority to require the repair of a failing OWTS and may record a notice of code violation against the property or implement summary abatement.
Advisory for Buyers and Sellers
We strongly advise one to research the history and condition of the property's current OWTS, as well as any conditions that may require future upgrades. Hiring a Qualified Professional, approved by Santa Cruz County Environmental Health, can provide valuable insights into the system's limitations, permit history, and property conditions. Upgrading or installing a new OWTS, whether an Enhanced Treatment System or a standard system, can be costly and time-consuming.
Understanding the local disclosure requirements and considerations surrounding OWTS is essential for those looking to buy and sell in Santa Cruz County. Compliance with the County Code ensures the proper functioning of wastewater treatment systems, protecting public health and preserving the quality of surface and groundwater. By consulting Qualified Professionals and conducting thorough research, buyers can make informed decisions regarding OWTS and ensure a smooth property acquisition process and sellers can get ahead of this legislation resulting in a successful close of escrow.