Title 5 Inspections | 101 For Buyers & Sellers

by | Feb 19, 2024

Of the over 3,000,000 homes in Massachusetts, about 650,000 have septic systems. In 1995, Massachusetts passed a state environmental code requiring septic systems and cesspools to be inspected before a home is sold.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Title 5 dictates specifically how to install, use, and maintain Massachusetts septic systems.
  • If you’re buying or selling a home, you’re required to receive an inspection within 2 years before a sale or 6 months afterward. The “6 Months Afterwards” provision considers weather conditions that prevent inspections at the time of sale.
  • There is a tiny bit of fraud in the Title V & septic system repair industry. To avoid this, read the law and avoid companies that do Title V inspections and system rebuilds.

There’s the skinny. If you’re a buyer or seller, we suggest you keep reading. 

Because things move fast in the home-selling process. You don’t have time for mistakes of ignorance or because “I just didn’t know.” Buyers will back out of deals, and sellers will find out they bought a headache of a property when it’s too late. 

What Is A Septic System?

A septic system is an onsite wastewater treatment system commonly used in areas without centralized sewer systems. Large lot settings and rural areas typically lack centralized wastewater treatment use septic systems. It is designed to treat and dispose of household wastewater (from bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry) in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

The Two Main Parts Of A Septic System

  • Septic Tank: This watertight container is usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It is buried underground and receives all the wastewater from the house. In the tank, solid waste settles to the bottom to form sludge, while fats, oils, and grease float to the top to form scum. The liquid wastewater (effluent) in the middle layer is then allowed to flow out into the drainfield.
  • Drainfield: Also known as a leach field or absorption field. This is an area on the property where the effluent from the septic tank is dispersed through perforated pipes or chambers into the soil. The soil acts as a natural filter, removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients from the effluent before reaching groundwater.

A failed septic system poses significant risks to public health and the environment. When a septic system fails, untreated or partially treated wastewater can surface in the yard or back into the home, exposing residents and neighbors to harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Leaking or overflowing effluent can contaminate nearby surface water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and streams, as well as groundwater, which is often a source of drinking water.

When Is An Inspection Required?

If you’re buying or selling a home, you’re required to receive an inspection within 2 years before a sale or 6 months afterward. The “6 Months Afterwards” provision keeps in mind weather conditions that prevent inspections at the time of sale.

If the system is pumped once per year following the date of the inspection, then the inspection is valid for three years instead of two.

Title 5 Inspections are required in the following situations:

    • Within two years before the sale of a home or transfer of title. 
    • When a child inherits a house from their parent(s)
    • Sale of a condominium unit or condominiums:
      • Condominiums with 5 or more units – all systems must be inspected every 3 years.
      • Condominiums with fewer units must either inspect all systems every 3 years or the system serving the unit being transferred must be inspected within 2 years before transfer.
        • When the usage of the property is changed.
        • When the footprint of the house is changed.
        • When a building or occupancy permit is required.
        • Foreclosure or deeds in lieu of foreclosure
        • Bankruptcy

        Advice To Buyers

        Many of the homes you’ll look at in Massachusetts are over 80 years old. This makes Massachusetts real estate appealing, especially when you factor in the poor quality of some new construction properties.

        If you’re looking at a property, it will have one of three Title V statuses:

        1. Title V Approved
        2. Not Done
        3. Retest

        If a home has one of the last two statuses, you can either negotiate the price with the seller or ask that they fix the issue. Of course, you also have the third option of walking away.

        If the seller refuses to fix the issue, we suggest walking away. Even if you get the property at a discount, you do not know what extra costs you may incur with replacing the septic system. If you decide to move forward, you can place terms in the purchase agreement whereby the costs for the rebuild are indicated, and money is placed in escrow.

        Two points to consider before you invest time and money buying a property with a failed septic system:

        1. The buyer cannot live in the home until the failed septic system is replaced. 
        2. Good luck finding a bank to lend you money to buy a house with a failed septic system.

        Advice To Sellers

        If you’re on septic, have a Title V inspection before the house goes on the market. You wouldn’t believe the number of headaches a failed inspection report causes in the middle of a transaction.

        When You Don’t Need An Inspection

        Title V inspections are not required in the following situations:

        • Transfers of property between:
          • Current spouses
          • Parents and their children
          • Full siblings
        • When refinancing a mortgage or similar financial instrument
        • Appointment of, or a change in, a guardian, conservator, or trustee;
        • Any other change in ownership or the form of ownership where NO NEW parties are introduced (e.g., for estate planning or in a divorce);

            The Process Of Setting Up An Inspection

            First things first, download and read a copy of the Title V law. You can get an idea if your system meets any failed criteria.

            Our #1 rule.

            Always have your inspection done by a reputable company. There are a lot of B.S. around Title V inspections and septic system repair companies. 

            You’re contending with two things:

            1. Wellers who have their own best interests at heart
            2. Title V inspectors who also rebuild systems or have a financial stake in the companies that do. (To avoid this, find an inspector from a different commonwealth)

            For lack of a better pun, it’s a real cesspool of misinformation and shady characters. 


            What Happens In An Inspection

            An inspection aims to determine if the system can protect public health and the environment. The inspector will determine the location and condition of cesspools, septic tanks, and distribution boxes.

            Note: Only MassDEP-approved individuals can conduct system inspections. The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission maintains lists of approved system inspectors.

            Inspection Pass

            If a septic system passes inspection, the inspector is required to submit an approved system inspection form to the local board of health within 30 days. Additionally, the homeowner is required to provide a copy of this approved inspection form to the prospective buyer. Prospective buyers and lending institutions may also request a copy of the approved inspection form as part of their due diligence process.

            Inspection Fail

            If a system fails a mandatory inspection, the inspector must submit the inspection form to the local board of health within 30 days, and the homeowner is required to provide a copy to the prospective buyer. Regardless of whether the property is sold, the system must be repaired or upgraded within 2 years following the inspection.

            Homes with cesspools almost never pass inspection because they do not conform with Title V.

            Get One-on-One Guidance

            Contact us below or call (978) 228-1068 to speak with us about selling your home fast.

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            Elie Deglaoui - Author


            Elie Deglaoui

            Elie is our office admin who handles all our day-to-day tasks and makes sure we always stay on track. He brings his love of music and sports into the office everyday to always liven up the environment. His outgoing personality makes it easy and fun for him to talk to homeowners, homebuyers, and everyone in between.

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