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 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.
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.
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
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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