A lawyer based in Cornwall is advising rural property owners to act now to ensure their septic tanks meet new legislation, which takes effect in January 2020.

Darren Higginson, Associate and property litigation expert at Coodes Solicitors, says that homeowners will need to comply with new rules by January 1, 2020, to avoid fines from the Environment Agency.

The new regulations require owners to replace or upgrade their existing septic tanks if waste currently flows into a watercourse, including ditches, streams and rivers. Homeowners will need a small sewage treatment plant to treat any waste before it goes into a watercourse.

Rules were originally introduced in January 2015 applying to new septic tank systems but from January 2020 they will be rolled out to include all systems – old and new.

Darren Higginson, who is based in Coodes’ St Austell office said: “This is not just something that will affect farmers: many rural homes in Cornwall have private drainage and a septic tank to deal with waste.

“The Government’s website lists advice that property owners with septic tank systems should read and follow. This includes swapping to a sewage treatment plant, which produces a cleaner form of discharge and/or installing a drainage field or soakaway system that disperses water waste safely into the ground.

“If you have a septic tank and are planning to sell your property, it is important to ensure you comply with the new legislation before selling. Potential buyers are likely to be put off if they find the property has a septic tank that does not comply with the new rules.

“It is not uncommon for a septic tank or soakaway to be situated on neighbouring land. If this is the case, then it is important to act quickly if you need to upgrade your system to comply with the new legislation by the 2020 deadline. The responsibility to upgrade lies with the owner of the septic tank, whether the soakaway is on their land or not.

“The process of upgrading your system could raise questions from your neighbour on the rights you have to access their land and your responsibilities to repair any damage to their land after any works have been carried out. It may raise bigger questions about whether or not the septic tank or soakaway should be on their land at all. This could all slow down the process, so act now to have the best chance of making the changes before the 1st January 2020.”

Coodes Solicitors Personal Disputes team offers specialist advice on property legislation.

For more information on any of these issues, please contact Darren Higginson in the Personal Disputes team on 01726 874700 or darren.higginson@coodes.co.uk