Easement for septic field - ok or avoid?

carpecattusJuly 14, 2012

I've loved browsing this forum for the past year as hubby and I gear up to build our dream home (hopefully end of next year or early 2014) and immediately thought I could get some helpful perspectives regarding our situation. We bought a nearly 7 acre lot about two years ago, and we're in the process of having a septic system/field designed/installed. Our terrain is very steep, with heavy clay soils on the top part of our property, where the building envelope is located, and sandy/loamy soil is located at the bottom corner of our property, so that's where the septic field will be located. Soil logs done - fabulous sandy soil - whoo hoo! ;-)

Here's our quandary - we are debating whether to do a boundary line adjustment with the lot next to ours. It hasn't been sold yet and the bank that owns the lot is willing to work with us to do a BLA basically for the cost of the surveying and any filing fees with the county. The reason for the adjustment would be to gain some extra buffer between our building envelope and the building envelope next door - we would have the option to plant extra trees/shrubs between us and any future home next door. (Instead of the current 50 foot buffer we would have 100 feet for a nice green belt.) However county rules require that the boundary line adjustment result in each lot remaining at their current size, so if we gain the upper corner of the lot next door for a buffer, we need to give them an equal adjoining portion of our property. We've played with a couple of different options, one of which would place our septic field onto the other lot. We were told by the surveying company that it is not uncommon to have easements which allow a septic field to be on a neighboring property. (Due to the steepness of the terrain, the chances of finding a different location on our property that will work for a septic field is pretty slim.) The big question - is a septic field easement a good idea or a potential source of trouble down the road? Your opinions/advice are much appreciated!

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Well our lot as a septic easement and I don't forsee a problem but the land the easement is on is already owned and built on. If the land was vacant it would make me a bit nervous for issues down the line. How big is the other lot?

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 1:16AM
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I just built with a septic field entirely on another property. But we are .3 acres and I am not sure I would do it with your situation. We had little choice and in our area, it would be unusual for someone to plant things on the field that would be a problem. But in most places a field needs to be protected and who addresses things if it isn't.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 6:14AM
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I don't know if having your septic system located in an easement on your neighbor's property would be a problem for you, but I for one, would never want to purchase property that had a septic easement and YOUR septic leach field on it!

Basically, the person who owns land encumbered by an easement is always somewhat restricted in what he can do with that portion of his land. Some easements are relatively innocuous but a septic easement would severely restrict the owner's options for using that portion of his land. For example, he can't build any roads across the septic easement or even occasionally drive his pickup truck over it because that could damage your septic field. He cannot build any sort of building on top of the field. He can't pasture large animals there because, over time, they would compact the soil causing early leach field failure. He should not grow a vegetable garden there due to the possibility of contaminants. He is even limited as to what trees he can choose to plant because the roots of many water loving trees (eg. willows) will wind up clogging septic lines. He can't dig a well and he can't put his own septic leach field in the easement. So, the person who buys the property with your septic field easement on it, winds up paying taxes for a hunk of land that he basically can do nothing with except LOOK at.

And, he HAS to allow you and your workmen onto his property any time you need to do any sort of maintenance on your septic system. In fact, if you need to go onto some part of his property that is outside the boundaries of your easement in order to maintain your septic system, he actually has to allow you to do that as well! (This right is typically referred to as a "secondary easement.")

And, what happens if someone is injured while in the easement area? Your neighbor could be held liable for their injuries!

Anyway you look at it, the existence of your septic easement (and septic system) on the neighboring piece of property would make that property LESS valuable than it would otherwise be.

The bank may be quite happy to to swap 1 acre of their steep clay soil land for 1 acre of your flattish sandy loamy soil land because the swap is to their advantage. (They might actually be thinking that getting that acre would give them a place to put a septic system to serve their property!) I sincerely doubt however they will feel the same way about making the swap if the land they would be getting is going to come already encumbered with a septic easement to service your property!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 11:45AM
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Why not just buy both lots and then join them? That would seem to solve all of the issues here.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 3:14PM
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Thanks so much for the responses everyone! The other lot is 6 acres and has the same shape and terrain as our lot - a long rectangle with a flat area on the top acre or so, and then it's very steep, rugged, brushy, with young second growth fir and alder - roughly a little over 100 foot drop over 200 feet, with several very steep ravines. (We were fortunate our septic guy had the experience and equipment that allowed him to access a ledge across one of the slopes for a field, while still maintaining enough brush and trees to prevent any erosion.) We would love to buy the other lot, but don't have another $250,000 to spare. ;-) (We suspect their soil conditions on the top are the same as ours, and we know they also have sandy soil down below.)

Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, and due to very strict county rules regarding clearing and grading, chances are extremely slim the future owners would ever make use of their lower portion of their property, except perhaps for the creation of a septic field. (We plan to keep the majority of our acreage wild.) Bev, you make a good point about whether this might lessen the value of that lot - in talking to the bank about the boundary line adjustment we have told them we want to make sure we aren't devaluing their property - they might not be so keen on this idea.

I think we're going to contact our septic guy on Monday and see if there is any possibility of finding another accessible spot and what it might cost - it might be worth the extra expense. If he can't, we'll have to see if we can play with the BLA in such a way to keep the current proposed field on our lot.

I'm so glad we're doing all of this well in advance of building! It will be one less thing to worry about next year....

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 4:39PM
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I would have done this septic investigation before BUYING, not just before building. I would have made an offer on the lot subject to septic approval, location and cost. Just something to keep in mind when you buy raw/undeveloped land.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 12:44AM
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Chispa, I agree with you about the importance of septic investigation prior to building. My hubby's an engineer - trust me, we did our due diligence and then some before closing on this property. :-) (We drove nearly everyone crazy with all of our very detailed and very persistant questions over the course of the full 45 days to closing - yes, we took advantage of the full 45 days!) We requested and thoroughly read geotech documents, researched county permitting rules, consulted several builders, found one of the best septic guys on the island, and got a detailed estimate on the septic location and price prior to closing. We've simply made the situation a bit more complicated recently by exploring this idea of a boundary line adjustment - something we really don't need to do, but hubby thought it was an idea worth exploring.

Actually, when we first looked at the property, we were told soil logs had been done near the building envelope and due to the heavy clay soil we would require an expensive alternative septic system. Fortunately our septic guy was very familiar with the development and he knew there was sandy soil on the lower portion of the property, giving us the ability to do a septic system at nearly half the cost! Whoo hoo! And yes, hubby is still asking lots and lots of questions. In fact, three weeks ago, on the morning of our 25th wedding anniversary, he insisted we be present when the holes for the soil logs were being dug and inspected - how romantic! ;-)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:16AM
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LOL! After reading how you spent your 25th anniversary, I have to share...

After we bought our first house (a bit of a fixer upper) thirty years ago, DH and I began to call our weekly trips to hardware stores our "dates." Sometime, even when we didn't need anything right then, or couldn't afford to buy what we wanted for the next project, we'd go just to wander the aisles and dream about what we would buy - when we could afford it - to further fix up the house. After 15 years or so, we finally got that house as close to our liking as we could get it so our "dates" to the hardware stores dwindled and, to be quite honest, I missed them. Somehow dinner and a movie just wasn't the same!

Then we bought property out in the country to build our dream home and started having "dates" at the hardware stores again! And we also started doing things like spending entire weekends out on the land clearing brush by hand and sometimes just walking around getting to know the land. We had nearly five years of those kinds of dates before we got the land paid off and were ready to start building.

And, one of my very favorite Christmas memories is from 8 months after we finally broke ground. Our builder had promised us that we'd be in our new home by Christmas but at that point, all we had a dried-in shell with bare stud walls inside. And, we'd been having so many issues with our builder that we knew we were going to have to fire him and were so scared of the financial ramifications of doing so that we didn't want to spend ANY money on travel or fancy gifts. Needless to say, it was NOT exactly shaping up to be a very happy Christmas because it seemed like everything we had dreamed about was going totally sour.

But then, on the spur of the moment, Christmas afternoon, we decided to pack up our Christmas dinner, along with a camp stove to reheat things, a bunch of candles, a card table and a couple of folding chairs, and drive out to the new house. We wound up having a lovely Christmas dinner by candlelight in the middle of the stud walls in our future dining room and then sitting out on the porch gazing at the stars and talking. It restored my faith that somehow everything would all come out all right as long as the two of us stuck together. Romance is all in how you look at things!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:47AM
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I follow this forum often, rarely have something to post. Bevangel, I respect your comments so often. This last post makes me like you even more! Thanks for sharing, made me smile.

I miss the hardware dates with my wife also.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 12:39PM
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Oh, Bev, thanks for sharing! What wonderful memories! We're gathering memories too as we embark on this adventure, like the weekend we closed on the property our first stop after signing paperwork at the title company was to a hardware store to buy a 100 foot contractors reel-type measuring tape, some rolls of surveying tape, stakes and flags. We then drove to the property and spent several hours staking potential layouts for our home and carriage house. We've enjoyed numerous picnics since then and hiked up and down the property more times than I can count; I've told friends and family, even if for some reason our plans fall apart and we can't build, we will still have such wonderful memories of the time we've spent up there. I'm attaching a photo of hubby enjoying the view on a day last summer - this is my very first attempt at this so hopefully it works! The funny thing is about two months after this, I discovered by chance that Google Earth had captured us enjoying our picnic, our patio umbrella gleaming in the sun! Pure serendipity! :-)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:24PM
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OP, I can tell by your photo that those are views of the sound. We are also building on island, I wonder if we are building on the same one? :) I cannot quite tell from the view but I looks very similar to the views you see from my island.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 11:29PM
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Oh, my gosh! :-) We're building on Whidbey - we overlook Saratoga Passage and Camano Island, and on a clear day we see Mt. Baker and even the San Juans to the far north. Where are you?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 12:16PM
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Bainbridge. From the north shore there are similar views but much different on the other shores, where you see the city and such. How fun! Whidbey is beautiful!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 4:27PM
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Oh, Bainbridge is wonderful too! I love the Bloedel Reserve - it's wonderful inspiration for landscaping ideas. (The "mansion" on the estate is beautiful too!)

My grandparents had a weekend cottage on Whidbey, which they moved to when they retired, so I have very fond memories of spending time up there. I convinced hubby we should do the same, and originally we were looking for a getaway cottage, but when we saw this view we couldn't resist! The thought of building is a little daunting, but it will be so nice to have something that we love when we're done.

Good luck with your home - I hope to see some photos posted in the monthly "How's your build going" threads! :-)

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 5:08PM
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Good luck to you too! We are about two months from breaking ground and then I hope to update on the building threads. And you are right, that view is amazing! We don't have a water view, I wish we did, but is was just not in the budget. DH and I are 27 and 28 with two girls under 2.5 so we have a lot of other expenses. Maybe our retirement home will have a view :)

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 5:28PM
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