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Michael Haigh's Blog

By Michael Haigh | Mortgage Broker
or Lender in Burlingame, CA

The importance of doing underground storage tank (UST’s) inspections for homes in San Mateo County

I had the "interesting" experience in 2005 (prior to my becoming a licensed agent) of learning first hand the process behind removing underground storage tanks.  Unfortunately, unlike in San Francisco which recommends sellers or buyers have underground storage tank testing for older homes as a point of sale procedure, the same recommendation is not in place in San Mateo County

To make matters worse, some believe that the natural & environmental hazards report (you may hear it called a JCP report) indicates if there are tanks on a property. This is somewhat incorrect; the report only indicates if there are known tanks on a property, typically those which have an open case & are either being repaired or removed/decommissioned.

Tanks more typically are found at the obvious commercial businesses such as gas stations or car rental/automotive shops but were also common on pre-1950′s homes as storage for heating oil.

To determine if a property has tanks, one must do a tank inspection. I sure would have appreciated knowing this nuance of San Mateo County property prior to my purchasing a home (via a local agent) which had not one but two UST’s! The discovery came about a few months after moving in while the old concrete driveway was being removed.

One tank had heating oil (this was the fuel for furnaces in older homes prior to gas) & the second tank had gasoline (probably an original homeowner fueled a car in the garage).

We quickly had a tank inspection company confirm tank presence including above ground evidence (fill pipes in the driveway, formerly covered with a concrete cover, vent pipes at the side of the property, & a former dispenser pipe in the garage).

For the record we did have property inspections. There was personal property of the sellers obscuring this above ground evidence in addition to general property inspectors are not trained to inspect for UST’s, that is a separate type of inspection.

It cost about $30,000 to remove both tanks followed by removal of contaminated soil & pump out of contaminated water over a period of ~12 months. Further joy when we had to under go one of the wettest winters resulting in having a mud swamp for a front yard/driveway.

Additional legal costs were incurred as we pursued the sellers for non-disclosure (we happened to find the owner who confirmed that sellers were aware of the tanks; prior to more stringent environmental regulations, UST’s were commonly removed by homeowners & taken to the dump & weren’t considered a big deal.

More good times & astronomical legal costs followed during the legal process of mediation & arbitration; the judge did rule in our favor and the sellers are on the financial hook. Still, would rather have just known upfront about this “nuance” in this county because I sure would not have purchased a property knowing tanks were present.

Open & closed UST sites can be found at GeoTracker which includes residences.

For a reasonable $150 or so, protect yourself & have a tank inspection!

Visit us online!


By David & Samuel Rifkin,  Tue Feb 5 2013, 06:34
Thank you very much for this great information.

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