Sewer, Septic Systems and Bedrooms
By Marcia L. Barney, Broker-in-Charge/REALTOR®, MarKam Unlimited, Inc.
Brokers frequently have questions regarding sewer and septic issues and the appropriate number of bedrooms for a listing.
Listing brokers should determine if the property they are listing is on municipal water and sewer, or if the property is serviced by a well and septic tank. If the property is serviced by public sewer and water the listing broker is advised to check with the local municipality to see when bills are due and get an average cost of services for the property. If the property is serviced by a septic system, the broker should obtain the existing septic "operation permit" from the local Department of Environmental Health.
The local Health Department's Environmental Health Specialist determines whether the land/lot will support the requested septic use in an "improvement permit" application. If so, the Environmental Health Specialist approves a design for a system of suitable capacity, generally assuming an occupancy level of two persons per bedroom.
North Carolina Administrative Code, Title 15A, 18A.1949, Sewage Flow Rates for Design Units, states "In determining the volume of sewage from dwelling units, the flow rate shall be 120 gallons per day per bedroom. The minimum volume of sewage from each dwelling unit shall be 240 gallons per day and each additional bedroom above two bedrooms shall increase the volume of sewage by 120 gallons per day. In determining the number of bedrooms in a dwelling unit, each bedroom and any other room or addition that can reasonably be expected to function as a bedroom shall be considered a bedroom for design purposes. When the occupancy of a dwelling unit exceeds two persons per bedroom, the volume of sewage shall be determined by the maximum occupancy at a rate of 60 gallons per person per day."
Therefore, each additional bedroom increases the capacity by 120 gallons per day. In determining the number of bedrooms a dwelling has, rooms designated as bedrooms are considered, along with any other room or addition to the structure that can reasonably be expected to function as a bedroom.
If a septic permit is available, the number of bedrooms permitted to be advertised for a listing will be the number of bedrooms as allowed on the septic permit issued by local authorities.
As stated in an article "Advertising Permitted Number of Bedrooms" released on 9/23/10 by the NC Association of Realtors, "While it may be factually correct that the house has four bedrooms and a three-bedroom improvement permit, it is undeniable that the purpose of listing the property in MLS as a four-bedroom house is to market it to buyers who are looking for a house with four bedrooms. Marketing the property as a four-bedroom house may be seen as encouraging overuse of the property's sewage system and could subject you to discipline by the NC Real Estate Commission for misrepresentation of a material fact. The Commission has long taken the position that a licensee who advertises a property for sale as having a certain number of bedrooms should be sure that any on-site sewage system is permitted to handle that number of bedrooms."
An article in the NC Real Estate Commission Bulletin, Fall 1993, "Advertising occupancy of properties served by onsite sewage systems" by Blackwell M. Brogden, Jr., Chief Deputy Legal Counsel, stated, "If a licensee encourages overuse of a property through his advertising or by other means, the occupants of the property may overload the system, thereby contributing to its eventual failure. When the sewage system fails, the local health department can prohibit further use of the system (and in turn occupancy of the property), in order to prevent contamination of the surrounding groundwater and to protect the public health. Even if the system is repairable, lower occupancy limits may be imposed. At that point, the occupants and owners of the property may blame the licensee for their losses. They may also complain to the Real Estate Commission."
If a septic permit cannot be located, you may advertise the number of bedrooms in the home but you should state in your MLS listing remarks that your investigation did not disclose the existence of a septic permit.
As you well know, disclosure of bedrooms is a very complicated issue, as evidenced by the information I have covered in this article. As a REALTOR® you have a duty of diligence and accuracy to your client and others that may rely on the information you provide. While I have provided my thoughts on how I like to pursue these issues, you would be wise to be sure you have thoroughly discussed with your company and your Broker-in-Charge how you will handle these issues in a correct and consistent manner. If you have questions regarding sewer/septic issues or the number of bedrooms for your listing, always check with your Broker-in-Charge, local Environmental Health Department and/or a real estate attorney. It pays to be overly cautious when handling such sensitive issues.