Septic tanks and SPANC

On July 17, 2013 by Martin RUSHTON

Since I qualified as a Chartered Building Surveyor and have been working  in France, I have seen many changes in the regulations affecting the way the French property market ‘functions’.

One of the more recent changes, which came in to force at the start of 2011, is the statutory requirement, that, if the property which is being sold is not connected to a public foul mains drainage system, the property’s private sewage treatment installation (PSTI), usually a septic tanks and dispersal drains, must comply with current standards, this to be confirmed by an approved inspector and, the report of the inspector must be presented to the prospective purchaser before the sale contracts are completed.

For many years now European Union Directives have required the local authority (essentially the Mairie) to inspect all PSTIs for compliance with the Regulations, and to issue a certificate of compliance or detailing the reasons for failure.

It is estimated that there are somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5 million households in France which are not connected to a main foul sewer and we estimate that this means 15 – 20% of the French population rely on a PSTI.

We know that there are a huge number of these PSTIs which are substandard and pose a threat to the health and/or safety of the building occupants and to the environment.

We also know that many of the Mairies simply have not had the resources to inspect all of the PSTIs and although every PSTI should have been scrutinized by the end of 2012, it is obvious that they will not be for many years to come.  Indeed we estimate there are more PSTIs still to be inspected and reported on than have already been assessed.

This explains why some properties may have a certificate of conformity even though there has been no recent change of ownership.

All Mairies should now have in place a Service Publique de l’assainissement non-collectif (SPANC) and it is SPANC which is responsible for the inspections and formally determining conformity or otherwise.  For some larger Communes theSPANC inspectors are ‘in-house’ and in other instances the work is delegated to approved inspectors in the private sector.  Some rather unethical people have spotted the opportunity this provides and have been turning up on doorsteps offering to do inspections and reports, which are of course invalid  and useless.

The legislation requires that all PSTIs are regularly inspected and at an interval of no greater than 4 years.  However because certain Communes have particular geological or other characteristics, the Mairie has the power to demand that PSTIs are inspected at less than four year intervals.  It is for this reason that intervals between the SPANC inspections and the longevity of the certificates varies from Commune to Commune.

If the property you are intending to purchase has already been officially inspected and ‘signed off’ as compliant and the certificate is still valid, then in theory the vendor does not have to commission an additional inspection solely for the purpose of the sale.

Once SPANC have inspected and reported make sure that as a prospective purchaser you fully understand the report, particularly if it states anything is non-compliant about the PSTI, because, once you are the owner, you are responsible for bringing the installation up to standard.

Whilst this might involve only minor works, it could possibly mean complete renewal of the external drainage system which would be a significant cost item running into  several thousands, if not tens of thousand of Euros.

It is also very important to remember that you are liable for the clean up costs should a PSTI pollute the environment.  The Mairie has the power to intervene, stop the pollution and then send you the bill.

Additional information can be found at:

http://www.assainissement-non-collectif.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/

There are loans available from the Government to assist with upgrading or replacement works.  For more information go to:

http://www.assainissement-non-collectif.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/DGALN_Assainissement_non_collectif_ecoptz20-09-10_cle01181a.pdf

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