Buyer should let seller pay for half of septic system


November 11, 2001

I recently reviewed a letter from Deborah Sloman, whose mother was involved in purchasing a home in Salisbury that apparently had a problem with its septic system.

After her mother purchased the home, it became apparent that the septic system was not working properly and the entire system would have to be replaced, costing more than $7,000. The sellers made an offer to pay for half of the cost of installing the new system, but the offer was refused. Now mother and daughter want to know what they can do to be fully reimbursed.

My advice to the two of you is that you first understand that the sellers gave you a signed property disclosure statement, stating that the septic system was functioning properly. If you can prove that the sellers actually knew the septic system was defective on the date they signed this statement, you may have a winning claim, based on the sellers' misrepresentation.

The company that inspected the septic system a few weeks prior to settlement performed a tracer dye test, and reported there was no visual evidence of septic system failure during the inspection. If you can prove that the test results actually disclosed a system failure, or that the dye test was not done correctly, you also may have a valid claim against the inspection company and the inspector.

I'm surprised you didn't accept the sellers' original offer to reimburse you for one-half of the cost of a new system. The replacement system you installed cost $7,255 but is superior to the old system and includes a new concrete lift station and effluent lift pump.

A court may not award you the full "replacement cost" of a new system, since legally recoverable damages may be limited to the fair value of the old system in working condition.

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