How to deal with a non-conforming septic tank

How to deal with a non-conforming septic tank

What are your options if the French property you want to buy has a septic tank that doesn’t conform to legal requirements and regulations? Planning expert Arthur Cutler explains what you need to do and how you can still go ahead with your purchase

The house we’re interested in has a non-conforming septic tank. It is on a small plot of land less than five metres from the house, a road and a neighbour’s field, with an outbuilding nearby, so we cannot replace it with a new one. The estate agent suggested a microstation, but the guy from SPANC told me microstations are not authorised for second homes. Now the agency says we must pay €400-€650 for a soil sample. We feel we are being pushed to do this without any answers as to whether a solution is even possible. What are our options?

Arthur Cutler, of planning and design service French Plans (, replies:

You could make your offer to purchase subject to a condition suspensive that the current owner installs a new system prior to completion, and that the new installation receives a certificate of conformity. If the existing system doesn’t conform, the problem will arise for any potential buyer, so it is in the vendor’s interests to find a solution.

It is absolutely possible to install a microstation – some are specifically developed for small spaces and for second homes. They are usually plastic, so not heavy, and can be craned over objects in order to allow installation.

However, not all regional SPANC(environment agency responsible for controlling septic tank systems) officers will accept them, and it will depend on whether there is anywhere for the treated effluent to flow to, such as a ditch. Some SPANC officials insist on the effluent passing through a filter bed of some sort prior to evacuation.


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Before a new waste system can be installed, it is necessary to produce an étude de sol (soil test and report on the proposed new system) for approval. Local specialist surveyors will have knowledge of soil conditions and what the regional SPANC office will accept. The fee quoted of €400-€650 is about average so, unless the vendor agrees to pay it or install an approved system, you will have to pay . The report will give a detailed soil study and recommend a suitable system that will be acceptable for a second home, and also acceptable to SPANC.

There is nothing to be gained at this stage from discussing it with contractors as you need to have the soil study first. Then you can use this to get an installation quote.

It is possible to get permission to partially dig up the road to allow for pipes to pass to another parcel of land, but you would have to get approval from the landowner and pay for the reinstatement of the road afterwards. If your French skills are limited, it would be a good idea to source a bilingual property manager or service provider in the area.


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