What Buyers & Sellers need to know.

Earlier this year Rhode Island's Congress amended the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007 to help clean up Narragansett Bay and protect our drinking water. The new changes go into effect January 1st 2016.

Amended? What was the Cesspool Act originally?

For the past few years only homes within 200 feet of the water or watershed areas were required to meet Phase Out inspection criteria including acceptable water flow and a passing grade on mandatory annual inspections.  If a property was sold in these areas, the new buyer was given a timeline to replace the system.

The original act was intended to make the process and expense more manageable for homeowners, while improving Rhode Island's water quality.

So what changed?

Starting January 1st 2016, ALL buyers of RI property with cesspools must replace the cesspool with a septic system within 1 year of the sale date. The same obligation applies to property owners with compromised cesspools - those that fail an inspection.  What makes this such a major change, is the requirement that ALL cesspools - not just the faulty ones - be replaced when a property sells. Up until this point, functioning cesspools in areas more than 200 feet from the water could stay. This is a big deal for many property owners across RI, especially in more rural towns that don’t have access to sewer systems. 

If the system has to be replaced, what kind of costs should I expect?

The cost of replacement varies and depends on the size of the system, the soil, the water table and proximity to bodies of water. Conventional systems will typically cost less than $20,000, but if an Advantec or other specially designed system is needed costs can reach or exceed $30,000.  

Will I have to change my existing cesspool no matter what?

Unless you’re selling your real estate in an arm’s length transaction, you don’t have to change your functioning system right away. If it fails an inspection, or needs to be pumped more than 2 times a year, the DEM will ask you to replace your system and give you a year to do it. Quitclaiming to a family member, or putting the home in a trust or being foreclosed on will not subject the property to the requirements of this Act.

I’m closing in 2015, will I have to meet these guidelines?

No, as long as the closing takes place on or before December 31st 2015.  The amended Act takes effect on January 1st 2016.

I'm selling, so do I have to pay for it?

That’s up to negotiations between the Buyer and Seller. Once the transfer of the deed takes place, the responsibility rests with the new owner.

Do I have to cover the whole cost? What if I can’t afford it?

Financial assistance programs with low interest rates are available in many towns to help homeowners pay for the work. Contact your town hall to see what they offer.  If your family income falls within certain guidelines, you may be able to file for hardship with the DEM and/or ask for an extension.

These new changes will effect a lot of people and complicate many future transactions, but this amendment will keep our state, our people and our wildlife healthy.  Being prepared and working with a Realtor who knows the law is the best way to manage this transition.

Posted by Jeff Brooks on


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