What are Septic Permits?

Mary McMahon

Septic permits are permits issued by local building departments or departments of health which indicate that someone may install a septic system on a specific site. People are usually required to get septic permits before septic system installations for health and safety reasons. Typically, a small fee must be paid to the issuing agency for a permit application to be accepted, and the permit may include specific recommendations about maintenance and repair in addition to specifying the site where the septic system may be installed.

Septic permits are issued to allow an individual to install a septic system on a specific site.
Septic permits are issued to allow an individual to install a septic system on a specific site.

People use septic systems to treat wastewater in regions where it is not feasible to connect to a municipal waste treatment system. Classically, installations take place in rural areas, and urban residents may actually be specifically banned from using septic systems. The goal of the system is to contain and treat the wastewater so that it will not contaminate the environment, and it typically consists of a septic tank for raw sewage, and a leach field for liquids.

When septic permits are issued, people must usually get a soil report to indicate that the soils around the proposed installation are stable and safe for use, and that they are not permeated with water, which could cause backflow in the septic system. Inspections may also be required to confirm that the proposed system will not impinge upon groundwater supplies, which could cause a contamination hazard, and the applicant must provide details about the type of system being installed, and where precisely on the site it will be located.

In addition to considering health and safety, the permitting agency will also determine whether or not the septic system will be appropriate for the proposed use. A single family dwelling will have radically different needs from a hotel, for example. If a septic system appears overpowered for the proposed development, the agency may also be concerned that the property owner intends to build illegal units or house extra residents.

Wastewater disposal is a huge issue, which means that septic permits are usually among the first things people apply for when they start to develop a site. Land which has existing septic permits attached can command a higher price from buyers, as the existing septic permit will save the buyer a lot of time when he or she starts the process of developing the site. Prospective buyers should review the permit to see what kind of system has been permitted, and how many occupants will be permitted under the terms of the permit.

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Discussion Comments


Something to be aware of if you're buying a house with a septic tank, especially new residential construction, is that the septic tank permit will specify a certain size for the tank and that will limit the legal size of the house.

A friend of mine bought a new house at the top of the crazy housing market. With "suburban sprawl," the new construction was being done in places that frankly would not have been considered suitable. He didn't pay much attention to the septic tank; he was too distracted by the granite counters and Jacuzzi tub.

The house had a "bonus room" that he thought he could finish into a fourth bedroom. Guess again - the septic tank was not large enough to legally support a four-bedroom house. In fact, it's not really large enough for his family. They have to be very careful about pacing their water use so it doesn't overflow. And the land cannot support a bigger tank even if he could afford to have it replaced.

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