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Subject: Mandating pumping of septic (common field)
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RussellB5
(Montana)

Posts:10


03/06/2019 1:58 PM  
Our HOA has a few dozen homes with a common shared septic drain field. Each home has a septic tank that empties into the common field.
The field is monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality and is a huge part of our shared expense and also shared liability as it requires repairs on pumps and meters.

Meeting with our septic contractor, they said a failure of that field, however unlikely, could be an extremely costly expense that would render all homes without sewer until it was repaired. Not to mention the heat it would bring from DEQ.
With information, our attention focused on prevention. A single home with a failed system could damage the entire drain field. They've seen this happen with a failed grease trap.

Our neighboring HOA has a similar system and they mandate ALL homeowners pump their tanks every 3 years and bill it to the homeowners.


Our board is considering a similar policy addition. We can negotiate a good pumping deal with a vendor if we bring them 30 homes at once (maybe $200/home). The thought is to err on the side of safety and pump every home's tank on a routine basis which would also include an inspection. The average home price in this subdivision is $1M and cost seems to not be an issue.

This brings up many questions, both legal and procedurally.

1) Can we legally force this? It's not in our covenants. Does the board have the authority or do we need to make this an HOA wide vote? At our last annual meeting, there was positive feedback to make it mandatory.
2) If we mandate this, what frequency should this be done?
3) Can we exclude homes that recently had them pumped?
4) Can we bill this as part of assessments?

How do other HOAs handle common septic fields? Any feedback would be appreciated.





RoyalP


Posts:0


03/06/2019 3:36 PM  
Surely your group of a few dozen million dollar homes can afford an attorney !?
MelissaP1
(Alabama)

Posts:8297


03/06/2019 4:09 PM  
You can modify and change your CC&R's/By-laws to include this pumping requirement. If it what the majority of owners want and agree to. Will need to get the required votes for changing and filing the documents. All that is in the documents. Will need a lawyer to help draft and file. Expect expenses for this to be a few grand.

I have a septic tank but not a shared one. Have never pumped it but do treat it with a OTC product every few months. It helps prevent issues. You can find it from the Dollar General, Walmart, or Home improvement stores. Usually are once a month treatments. I had some just flush like a Tide Pod down the toilet. (Lowest floor). Recommend not making that mandatory but for good preventative maintenance.

There are various theories/opinions when to pump a tank. I would get more opinions before deciding on a 3 year period. It depends on many factors. My tank never had an issues over 10 years. People who have kids and more people in the home may need more maintenance.

Will tell you to NOT use Charmin Toilet paper. It is known to clog a septic system. My neighbor found out the hard way.

Former HOA President
GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:1243


03/06/2019 4:43 PM  
Ignore RoyalP's snide comments. He does this constantly and the supporting site will not restrict his responses - sorry.

Have had septic tanks before ... usually they operate just fine without any additives - and, some additives have been shown to induce problems - so, tread carefully.

Some states mandate pumping at least every five years - and, if this hasn't been done, the mortgage industry will mandate it prior to closing on a sale. So, there may be some potential, depending on Montana's statutes for there to be excess tank pumping. Likely possible to come up with some construct that works well.

Doing all the homes at the same time is a great idea and less expensive - some will probably argue there are only two people in their house, and those with 4-5 people or more are the issue. You'll have to get past this ...
AugustinD


Posts:1785


03/06/2019 5:31 PM  
-- Russell, I think you would have to review the section of your CC&Rs on amending and go from there.

-- Notably the tanks would probably have to be deemed 'commonly owned' with the HOA responsible for their maintenance. Then the cost can become a budget line item and duly assessed to the membership.

-- For liability reasons, your board should use the advice of a professional for the frequency.

-- As far as excluding homes that were recently pumped: I think what your Board should do is seek an amendment (with a vote of the members) that includes a statement saying this will go into effect in x years.

-- Check with your insurer about this.
RoyalP


Posts:0


03/07/2019 7:06 AM  
Posted By GeorgeS21 on 03/06/2019 4:43 PM
Ignore RoyalP's snide comments. He does this constantly and the supporting site will not restrict his responses - sorry.

Have had septic tanks before ... usually they operate just fine without any additives - and, some additives have been shown to induce problems - so, tread carefully.

Some states mandate pumping at least every five years - and, if this hasn't been done, the mortgage industry will mandate it prior to closing on a sale. So, there may be some potential, depending on Montana's statutes for there to be excess tank pumping. Likely possible to come up with some construct that works well.

Doing all the homes at the same time is a great idea and less expensive - some will probably argue there are only two people in their house, and those with 4-5 people or more are the issue. You'll have to get past this ...




I simply use far fewer words than the typical helpful poster(s).

ALL of said poster(s) referencing the need for an attorney.


@ George:


DouglasK1
(Florida)

Posts:1419


03/07/2019 8:25 AM  
Posted By RussellB5 on 03/06/2019 1:58 PM

3) Can we exclude homes that recently had them pumped?
4) Can we bill this as part of assessments?



4) I think this is probably the simplest thing to do, just include it in the association budget, raising assessments as needed, and have the association contract for the work. The vendor might even give more of a discount for single invoice/payment.

3) The association can then make sure the tanks are pumped on some specified schedule. If any tanks have already been pumped in that time frame, defer them until the time frame has been reached.

Escaped former treasurer and director of a self managed association.
ND
(PA)

Posts:310


03/07/2019 9:09 AM  
This suggestion would complicate the idea of a set pumping schedule for all homes; however, would allow more flexibility and equitable distribution of cost, especially important for homes with 1-2 occupants versus homes with 6+ occupants.

Unless there's something I'm not thinking of, the contents of a septic tank are somewhat directly proportional to the volume of water utilized by the home. I think most septic inflow comes from toilet flushing, bathing/showering, clothes washing, and other things that use water and drain into the house's wastewater system (dishwasher, sinks, etc.). However, this theory isn't accurate if there is significant grass watering, car washing, pool filling, horse hydrating, or other water usage where the water doesn't end up in the septic tank.

If you could somehow routinely convince all owners to supply water bills showing water usage, then you could create a varying pumping schedule which then bills owners according to when they are pumped. Could be a bit of work to collect and manage this data though and possibly puts a bit more onus on whoever is doing it to be accurate with their predicting.

All that said, this is just an idea, and potentially not worth the effort it would entail. After all, a couple hundred bucks every few years should be no big deal for a homeowner. If the method mentioned above pushes a pumping 6-12 months one way or the other, the overall cost effect/savings is not really that significant.
RussellB5
(Montana)

Posts:10


03/07/2019 10:31 AM  
Our board is simply knocking ideas around. At this stage, we are simply talking about preventative maintenance and protecting our shared asset, the drain field. No hard decisions have been made and there is no urgency.
The drain field is VERY expensive to replace. We recently replaced a control board with one that has telemetry to report pumping status and health. This gives us better DEQ reporting and notification quickly of pump failures. We learned, that after 3 days of a pump failure, effluent would start bubbling out of the ground. Keeping ahead of problems is part of our stewardship as a board.

Our covenants are vague and state individual tanks should be pumped "regularly".

Our board paid to have EVERY septic tank inspected to see if there were any imminent dangers. The inspection was very comprehensive. They measured sludge, scum, tested pumps and cleaned screens and we are now awaiting the report. They found no immediate dangers.

Septic tanks are not an exact science of one policy fits all.
After inspections, one neighbor of 10 years did NOT need pumping. Ours is just over 2 years old and the inspector said we should pump it next year. They have 5 people living in their house we have 3. Our septic tank (according to the installer) is huge. We have 3 stages.

Much depends on what you put down the drain. Grease is the worst culprit. The septic experts I spoke with said the over the counter treatments don't do much. Who knows? Whereas if you use a lot of bleach, it kills the natural flora that eats away at your sewage naturally.


Melissa, I have no doubt that Charmin and/or other junk people flush can be a problem clogging systems. We provided homeowners with a handout for proper care of their individual systems (it didn't mention Charmin). I've learned a lot speaking with septic experts. They had one homeowner running a commercial kitchen out of their home, dumping loads of grease down the drain. It overwhelmed the grease traps and started entering the common drain field. A very big problem. Our concern is what gets past individual homeowner's tanks and enters the common system.


Augustin: "Notably the tanks would probably have to be deemed 'commonly owned' with the HOA responsible for their maintenance"
I'm not sure this would fly. Because if they are commonly owned, homeowners could abuse their own systems and expect the HOA to pay to fix it. During "inspections" we made it clear all repairs would be the homeowner's responsibility. They found only one broken lid. However, septic tank repairs can be costly.
I agree we should lean on our septic vendor for frequency. They have been very helpful thus far.


George: I'm not aware of any state mandate. However, as you stated, most mortgage companies require it. Several recent home sales have triggered pumping. Obviously, because they understand the risk and financial liability of a failed system. It was at our last annual meeting that many homeowners suggested: "Why not just pump everyone every 3 years". Feedback so far seems to be to err on the side of caution.


Another variable is not all lots have homes built on them.
Only actual homeowners connected to the system should be paying assessments for pumping service.


The neighboring HOA pumps ALL homes at the same time, therefore securing a large discount. The vendor also requires the HOA pay a single bill, presumably because they want to get paid and not chase down deadbeats.

My feeling is that we should get a survey of neighbors before going forward. I'm also going to reach out to the neighboring HOA to learn more of how they do it.
My gut says we should require some form of pumping. However, I'm not the only vote but do set the board agenda.


Royal: We certainly can afford and do have an attorney. However, as stewards of member's dues, we are responsible to spend their money wisely regardless of their ability to pay.
If and when we make a change to covenants, it will most definitely require legal counsel. It seems premature to go there until we, as an entire HOA, can decide what should be done.


AugustinD


Posts:1785


03/07/2019 10:46 AM  
Posted By RussellB5 on 03/07/2019 10:31 AM
Augustin: "Notably the tanks would probably have to be deemed 'commonly owned' with the HOA responsible for their maintenance"

I'm not sure this would fly. Because if they are commonly owned, homeowners could abuse their own systems and expect the HOA to pay to fix it. During "inspections" we made it clear all repairs would be the homeowner's responsibility. They found only one broken lid. However, septic tank repairs can be costly.


For sewer systems in many condominiums, owners are responsible for their "own abuse" only up to the point that their drain pipes connect with another unit's drain pipes or the common pipe. After this point, and for each unit, the condo association is responsible for maintenance of the drain pipe. It seems to me that if your board wants to implement this plan, of having the HOA pump all septic tanks, or even if it does not, myriad liability issues will occur either way your board chooses. I mean, I think a HOA attorney would say it's a terrible idea to have the HOA have the power to go onto an individual member's anything to do xyz. See what your attorney says.
RussellB5
(Montana)

Posts:10


03/07/2019 10:49 AM  
Posted By ND on 03/07/2019 9:09 AM
This suggestion would complicate the idea of a set pumping schedule for all homes; however, would allow more flexibility and equitable distribution of cost, especially important for homes with 1-2 occupants versus homes with 6+ occupants.

Unless there's something I'm not thinking of, the contents of a septic tank are somewhat directly proportional to the volume of water utilized by the home. I think most septic inflow comes from toilet flushing, bathing/showering, clothes washing, and other things that use water and drain into the house's wastewater system (dishwasher, sinks, etc.). However, this theory isn't accurate if there is significant grass watering, car washing, pool filling, horse hydrating, or other water usage where the water doesn't end up in the septic tank.

If you could somehow routinely convince all owners to supply water bills showing water usage, then you could create a varying pumping schedule which then bills owners according to when they are pumped. Could be a bit of work to collect and manage this data though and possibly puts a bit more onus on whoever is doing it to be accurate with their predicting.

All that said, this is just an idea, and potentially not worth the effort it would entail. After all, a couple hundred bucks every few years should be no big deal for a homeowner. If the method mentioned above pushes a pumping 6-12 months one way or the other, the overall cost effect/savings is not really that significant.




We are all on private wells. So there is no water metering. However, we lived in places where sewer bills WERE tied to water usage. Not fair for those who watered lawns instead of dumping it down the drain and into the system.

We all have private septic tanks (for sludge and scum) and share a common drain field for effluent (water).

We DO, as an HOA, pay the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) a tax based on the flow that enters our drain field. We must provide them reporting on flow so they can bill us. Maintaining those flow meters and records is essential to keep them (the DEQ) and fines at bay.

As stated above, in my experience, there is no rhyme or reason for the frequency of pumping. The inspector of our tank said after 3 years of use, we should pump ours. It's a very large tank and we don't think we put much down it. They said another neighbor's tank was fine after 10 years.
RussellB5
(Montana)

Posts:10


03/07/2019 10:53 AM  
Posted By RussellB5 on 03/07/2019 10:49 AM
Posted By ND on 03/07/2019 9:09 AM
This suggestion would complicate the idea of a set pumping schedule for all homes; however, would allow more flexibility and equitable distribution of cost, especially important for homes with 1-2 occupants versus homes with 6+ occupants.

Unless there's something I'm not thinking of, the contents of a septic tank are somewhat directly proportional to the volume of water utilized by the home. I think most septic inflow comes from toilet flushing, bathing/showering, clothes washing, and other things that use water and drain into the house's wastewater system (dishwasher, sinks, etc.). However, this theory isn't accurate if there is significant grass watering, car washing, pool filling, horse hydrating, or other water usage where the water doesn't end up in the septic tank.

If you could somehow routinely convince all owners to supply water bills showing water usage, then you could create a varying pumping schedule which then bills owners according to when they are pumped. Could be a bit of work to collect and manage this data though and possibly puts a bit more onus on whoever is doing it to be accurate with their predicting.

All that said, this is just an idea, and potentially not worth the effort it would entail. After all, a couple hundred bucks every few years should be no big deal for a homeowner. If the method mentioned above pushes a pumping 6-12 months one way or the other, the overall cost effect/savings is not really that significant.




We are all on private wells. So there is no water metering. However, we lived in places where sewer bills WERE tied to water usage. Not fair for those who watered lawns instead of dumping it down the drain and into the system.

We all have private septic tanks (for sludge and scum) and share a common drain field for effluent (water).

We DO, as an HOA, pay the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) a tax based on the flow that enters our drain field. We must provide them reporting on flow so they can bill us. Maintaining those flow meters and records is essential to keep them (the DEQ) and fines at bay.

As stated above, in my experience, there is no rhyme or reason for the frequency of pumping. The inspector of our tank said after 3 years of use, we should pump ours. It's a very large tank and we don't think we put much down it. They said another neighbor's tank was fine after 10 years.




Our board is meeting next week and will hash some ideas around. After that, I will probably drop our attorney a call.

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