Thank you for asking the question of Kay. All to often we Inspectors get beat on for items that are hidden and out of view. In this case there are ways though that the Inspector may have potentially been able to identify what type system the home had (i.e. city sewer or on site septic). It is unfortunate though that many Inspectors choose to take the out of "It is not in my Standards Of Practice (SOP) and therefore not a required check" excuse. That excuse is of a "Minimalist Inspector". That type of Inspector does little to help the client.
For this explanation I will use the expectation that in Cape Coral area the septic systems were in the rear of the home and city sewer hook-up is in the front of the home. I am familiar with some areas of Florida where that is the case. Also I would expect that in Cape Coral this is a potentially common incident as they are currently transitioning from septic systems to city sewer.
Septic systems, if originally properly installed, would have two cleanouts located just outside of the homes wall where the main building drain exits and heads to the septic tank. In general these are PVC pipes (could be cast iron or other types) with removable caps for snaking and cleaning in both directions. Older installations may only have one. Since septic system replacement is a major action it would be covered by current building codes in place for that area. All building codes I am aware of would require a pair of new cleanouts to be installed on the new main drain line to the city sewer system. Therefore, under the conditions outlined above, there should have been two cleanouts located in the front of the home for the city sewer hook-up.
There are requirements for old septic systems to be properly deactivated. The most common is to cap and seal the main building drain near the home and either remove the old tank and plumbing outside or properly pump, clean and fill them so that they can not hold runoff water and potentially leach out in the soil. In addition there may be a requirement to maintain a written certification in some location to identify that the removal was properly performed. That is generally in the local health department records.
So to identify if the home had been hooked to city sewer the Inspector could have looked for two sets of cleanouts. Or they could have looked for a set of cleanouts in line with the new city sewer line. If two sets of cleanouts were in place and it was unsure which way the sewage was flowing a quick check can be attempted. Turn on a couple of faucets in the home, remove the exterior main drain caps and see in which pipes the water is flowing. I pull these caps on septic systems just to check for backups indicating a potential problem with the system. It is also a good test for this situation as well.
As to the question of what the Inspector may or may not be responsible for would require knowing the following. Were the main drain lines on separate sides of the home as described above? Did the client have a written contract for the inspection? If a written contract was used, what did it contain? Did it contain references to what would and would not be inspected (could have been in the form of a reference to an SOP)? Did the inspection report make any mention of any items noted above, any reference to having a septic inspection, any references that the Inspector could not determine the current conditions?
As previous posts pointed out there is also the potential for recourse against the listing agent, Title Company and potentially the buyer's agent if they were aware of local conditions and did not advise the client of these things.
Hope this helps. If anyone has specific questions please feel free to email them to me.
Emmanuel J. Scanlan
PS Inspection & Property Services LLC
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