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Faulty septic system could lead to action against seller


Dear Mr. Azrael:

The day after we moved into our new home, we began experiencing problems with our toilets overflowing. Then we noticed a horrible odor whenever we went outside or opened our windows. We didn't think we were having problems with our septic system because we had just had it certified after a dye test was performed.

The baffle was missing and the inspector advised us to ask the homeowners to replace it, and have both sides of the tank pumped out. That was supposedly taken care of, but I don't think it took care of the hidden problem. Without the baffle on the septic system, the solids were able to travel to the dry well and clog up the drainpipes. We were never advised of that possibility.

We are experiencing floods and odor in our yard, and our toilets overflow whenever we use water.

Our dry well is shot! We're positive the prior owners knew of this problem and falsely stated on the disclosure form that they had no knowledge of any existing problems.

Could you please advise the name of an attorney we could contact who would be able to help us resolve this serious matter?

Shannon Hemstetter


Dear Ms. Hemstetter:

Your contract documents may give you legal rights against the seller. The standard real estate sales contract, used by many real estate companies, states: "All ... plumbing (including well and septic) ... included in this contract shall be in working condition."

If the septic system didn't work properly at the date of settlement, the seller might be found to have breached this promise and held liable for resulting damages.

It also appears that the sellers signed a property-condition disclosure form that expressly stated that they did not know about any existing problem with the septic system.

If you can prove that this representation was not true, the sellers could be found to have misrepresented the condition of the property and be required to pay for repairs or replacement.

As a result of your home inspection, the sellers agreed to replace the baffle on the septic system, but it seems as if this repair was not completed or was done incorrectly.

The homeowner or the plumber who made the repair might be liable for failing to do the agreed repair in a good and workmanlike manner.

One or more of these contract provisions might give you legal rights to recover damages. You would have to have the septic system corrected by a qualified company, or have a firm estimate of the repair costs. The person who did the corrective work or gave the estimate probably would have to testify to prove your damages.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the Anne Arundel County Bar Association can refer you to a local lawyer for complete advice as to your legal rights and remedies. The telephone number is 410-280-6961.

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