What happens when shared septic tanks go bad?

Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Septic tank wars!

Ok, so the title may sound a little over dramatic, but at UKDP HQ we often receive calls from property owners who have a shared septic tank with their neighbours, and things have turned a little ugly.

Now, a shared septic tank problem isn’t that much of a 'problem’ when your neighbour is the type who feeds your cat while you’re away, and gives you a tin of your favourite biccies at Christmas.

If you’re not on such familiar terms with your neighbours, and the septic tank you share stops working, it can make for some awkward conversations. Who’s going to pay for it to be sorted out? Who’s going to make the arrangements? And what happens if not all of your neighbours are bothered about getting the problems fixed?

After all, there will only be one neighbour who has the septic tank on their property, so they’ll be bearing the brunt of the nasty niffs and any unpleasant stuff bubbling up in their garden. For some, it can be a case of 'out of sight (or smell), out of mind'.

So, who’s on the hook for any shared septic tank problems?

The simple answer is that any costs should be split equally between the number of properties that connect to the septic tank. It doesn’t matter how many people live at each property, or how big each property is in relation to the others, it’s a straightforward share per property. The only exception to this is if something different has been agreed and formally set down in the property deeds.

So far, so straightforward. Unfortunately, things tend to go a little pear shaped when agreements haven’t been put down in writing. Typically, arrangements for the costs to maintain, repair or replace a shared septic tank (or any other off-mains drainage system) are detailed in property deeds, or a separate formal agreement.

Making sure the agreement is formal is key here. We have seen instances in which informal agreements were made between neighbours, which then came back to bite any new owners of the property on the preverbial.

*Knock knock*

Neighbour: Oh hi, the septic tank needs emptying, so can you sort it out please?

You: Err…it’s a shared septic tank though, aren’t we all supposed to contribute?

Neighbour: Well, maybe, but Eric always used to sort it out when it needed emptying. It needs doing quite urgently please.

You: *Cursing Eric whilst hoping your deeds say different*

That’s certainly not the worst example we’ve encountered of less than neighbourly behaviour when it comes to shared septic tanks. We’ve seen one case in which a neighbouring farmer parked his tractor over a septic tank to stop his neighbour being able to fix it. So, it's best to try to avoid any future disputes right from the start.

If you are looking at buying a property that has a shared septic tank, or if you already own one, you’ll want to know exactly where you stand. Find out from the seller exactly what’s in place, and check any deeds or any other agreements. If things are quite informal, alarm bells should ring. That might work for the property owners that are there at the moment, but you’ll have no idea what you’re actually letting yourself in for.

Our best advice would always be to set up a separate residents association into which each of the neighbours can pay an agreed amount each year. This would cover the costs of any regular maintenance, with any extra for works which might need to be undertaken. It removes the need for any awkward conversations and sets down exactly how problems will be dealt with.

Do we need septic tank insurance?

We’re often called by property owners with a shared septic tank, asking if they need to have any septic tank insurance in place. The simple answer is no, but it’s a good idea to check that each property owner has the correct cover in their existing buildings insurance policy.

Most people aren’t aware that their buildings insurance policy typically provides cover for certain types of damage to their shared septic tank, sewage treatment plant or cesspit, under a section of the policy called 'accidental damage to underground services'.

What happens if we have a shared septic tank problem?

Naturally, there are many companies you could call, but we would highly recommend calling UKDP (biased, us?). We can find out exactly what’s causing the problems with a septic tank inspection.

Did you know?

If the drainage system has become damaged then it just so happens that we’re experts in managing insurance claims for off-mains drainage systems. If the problems haven't been caused by anything that would be covered by your insurance, we can still help to get things fixed for you.

We’re very experienced in dealing with neighbours who may not see eye to eye, and often find that an independent third party can help take the heat out of the situation.

So, if you’re having any shared septic tank problems at all, just call our team for advice on 0800 028 9903 or contact us and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Sam's career prior to UKDP was spent in the marketing and service industries, so she is focused on making sure we look after our customers – and getting the UKDP message out there! Sam has overall responsibility for business operations and for delivering the best customer service we can.

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