By Drew Morgan
I tend to stay away from expressing our opinions about the machinations of Belmont’s City Council but I thought their recent proposal which burdens every home seller with a sewer lateral inspection and repair requirement needs some public scrutiny. What I’d really like is to open dialogue and awareness, not push any personal agenda because in truth, if this passes, I’ll just add it to my list of “things to do before we sell a home”.
What is a sewer lateral?
It’s the underground pipe that runs from your home to the public sewer system.
What’s the issue?
In some cases, the sewer lateral can leak or even break causing sewage to seep into the ground—similar as to a leach field used in septic systems but not as sanitary. It also has the unwanted effect of possibly allowing ground water (from rain for example) to enter the sewer system which can overburden the system.
What’s the Fix?
First, you have to learn if you have a faulty sewer lateral. There is a relatively inexpensive smoke test which Belmont has been employing to detect faulty sewer laterals. The more expensive way to discover this is through a field test with a camera which is snaked through your sewer line to detect visible deficiencies.
How much does it cost if I need to repair my sewer lateral?
That depends. An short run and easy fix from your home to the street might cost under a thousand dollars but could also reach ten times that amount if there are difficulties in reaching the sewer lateral or, as in the case of many Belmont homes, the sewer lateral has a very extensive run across multiple properties before it reaches the main city sewer line.
What the City of Belmont is considering:
The Belmont City Council has been deliberating whether or not to force each homeowner to perform a test and if necessary repair the sewer lateral before they can sell their home. That proposal is called a “point of sale” or POS proposal.
What’s the problem with their proposal?
There are several issues with this approach which could cause a homeowner a problem should they need to sell their home and either not have the funds to repair the sewer lateral, or not have the time before the close of escrow. Amendments to this proposal include ways a homeowner could negotiate with a buyer to inherit the burden but so far the proposed workarounds appear to be at odds with lending and escrow institutional requirements.
What’s the answer?
The City of Belmont is currently testing sewer laterals utilizing a smoke test which offers the added benefit of detecting downspouts that may be discharging roof runoff into the sewer system rather than the storm drains. Should they find a leak they could then require the homeowner to repair their sewer lateral and have the opportunity to secure financing if needed.
The POS proposal seeks to limit the sewer lateral test to a relatively small subset of homes—only those which sell in a given year, which in 2012 was only 236—while the easily performed smoke test could potentially reach far more homes.
One wonders if the city is truly interested in fixing the sewer lateral problem or pushing it off onto those who will have little voice in the next election—those selling their home and moving away.
Our point in bringing you this information is so that you are aware of what is being proffered and that the city council wants to hear from you by next Tuesday, or you may attend the meeting February 13th at 7:30.
Questions we’d like more information on are:
- Since water takes the path of least resistance, how much ground water do you think realistically would force its way into a crack in a sewer line and how much sewer water might leach out? Has there been any testing on this to find out if a problem of any magnitude actually exists?
- How many homes did Belmont test utilizing the smoke bomb test last year? How many homes failed? What action was taken?
- How much does it cost the city to perform a smoke test?
- How much does it cost for a camera test?
- Would the smoke tests stop if the POS is passed?
- Are Belmont’s commercial buildings which rarely ever change hands virtually exempt?
- How will Belmont handle homes which fail the sewer lateral and where there is no money to effect repairs for seniors, or low income homeowners for example?
REALTOR / Notary Public
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