One third of all Florida homes use septic tanks. They are environmentally friendly, and we should love them. BUT they can also be problematic if not maintained properly. They can cause incredible headaches in rental properties.

Only owner-occupied properties can be DIY in Florida, and only in single family homes. Instances of duplexes/multi-family, and rental properties must use a licensed plumber or septic tank contractor. Here's more information on septic tanks in Miami-Dade County, and State of Florida.

Septic Tanks and Rentals

Septic Tanks and Rentals can be a problematic mix. As a landlord, one of the most important things you can do is write up a one-page information sheet or add a one-page addendum to your leases EXPLAINING your septic system, how it works and where it's located. Why? Your tenants could cost you MANY THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS if they are unaware of how to dispose of normal household waste, chemicals, etc. What if they like to park in that nice big area of the yard, or put in a trampoline or above ground pool? These things can cause major damage to your drain field! If you have to have it redone, it can easily cost between $7k - $10k. And that doesn't include having to rebuild any fences after, having to remove any trees, having to add dirt and sod back on to that area of your yard.

When you're dealing with septic tanks and rentals, make sure YOU understand how it works and where the different components of the system are. Then inform your tenants!! They should why a septic tank system is EXCELLENT for the environment and why they should be happy to have it. How does it work? Where's the drain field? Where's the strainer?

We recommend adding a separate addendum to the lease. Separate addendums add additional focus to important topics within the lease, and we believe this topic is worthy of it's own page with leases. Explain the general location of the drain field and expressly state any specifics tenants must adhere to. Is it located at the front of the property? Make sure tenants don't park on top of it. Is there a strainer or two strainers? Do you want to let tenants know where they are so the tenants can be responsible for cleaning them out themselves? It's also important to explain how the septic tank works, naturally. Let them know what happens when they flush facial tissue/Kleenex (hint: don't do it). If they have pets, ask them not to bathe them indoors as the extra pet hair and any sand/dirt can add additional impact on the system. Be clear in managing your expectations for how tenants should dispose of kitchen waste.

Septic Tank Pump Outs

Any landlord or property manager that deals with septic tanks and rentals has gotten that middle of the night call: "sewage is backing up into my bathtub". It's gross, and the experience is avoidable. Septic tanks, in theory, can exist without ever having to pump them out. However, when you have tenants, it's a good idea to have them pumped out every 3-5 years regardless. Why? Pump outs are fairly inexpensive, compared to the DISGUSTING catastrophe they can avoid, ranging on average from $250-$400.

Septic Tanks and Rental Lease Addendums

We recommend adding a one-page Septic Tank Rental Lease Addendum to landlord leases. Why?  The septic tank system is such a vital part of your rental property, and incredibly costly if not taken care of properly. By adding a separate addendum explaining what it is, where it is, how it works and how to maintain it properly, tenants are given the information they need to keep it running right. By reading the addendum, and signing it in agreement they understand what they read, you can hold them accountable for some of the potential maintenance issues that can arise from negligence. The EPA publishes a guide to help: How to Care for your Septic System

Septic Tanks and Rentals is best addressed in a separate one page Addendum to a Rental Lease.
Here's some verbiage to consider:

The home you are renting has a septic tank system. Septic tanks are very eco-friendly systems that dispose of waste/wastewater naturally. Care must be taken to ensure the system works effectively, or plumbing backups or damage to the system can occur.

It is important to NEVER dispose of items down sinks, drains or toilets such as paper towels, disposable wipes, feminine hygiene products, grease, coffee grounds, dental floss, colored tissue paper, or any non-biodegradable items.

Most plumbing issues are related to food sand (from washing pets, toys, kids) hair, kitchen utensils, bottle caps, etc and will clog drain lines,. Unused food should be treated as solid waste for the garbage rather than scraped into sinks/drains. Grease and oil will solidify in the lines when they cool, will build up over time, and slowly clog the septic lines and drain field. Grease and oil should ALWAYS be poured into a container (can, milk jug etc) and disposed of as solid waste (into a garbage can). Wash all dinner/food/plates/bowls/utensils etc AFTER food has been scraped into a garbage can.

The use of chemicals such as Drain-O are corrosive and cause damage to piping over time. Care should be taken to avoid clogged drains before there is a need for unclogging. No anti-clog chemicals should be used or needed. In the even of a clog, it will be necessary to call a plumber.

Septic tanks are vulnerable to bleach, laundry detergents kill the bacteria needed for the septic system to function properly. These and any other chemicals must be used sparingly if at all.

If a toilet, sink or drain is clogged or the septic system fails, and the presence of any foreign materials noted above other than toilet paper (ie drain gets clogged, plumber goes out to repair and finds feminine hygiene products clogging the septic line) TENANT will be charged for associated damages, repairs and labor.

Septic Tanks and Garbage Disposals

Don't mix the two. Using the garbage disposal means disposing of food into the system. The biology involved will get overwhelmed by the food waste and stop working correctly. As much as you might want to have a garbage disposal installed in the property, it is NOT worth major issues it causes to septic tanks and those systems. Instead of having it pumped out every 3-5 years or more, you'll be having to pump it out 1-2 times EVERY year! Installing a garbage disposal is NOT a home improvement you want to do.

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