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Shared Sewer Agreements

Greg Jackson

The concept of a shared sewer system is applicable in many situations where multiple dwellings are in close proximity to each other or to a municipal wastewater line. Large residential developments may require certain types of agreements with local governmental agencies. Problems arising from damage to the sewer line of one dwelling, such as tree roots corrupting the line, are sometimes resolved in this manner. In many instances, a shared sewer agreement is necessary, whether the agreement includes the entire septic system or just certain elements of wastewater removal.

Elements of A Shared Sewer System

Shared sewer agreements are required in some instances.

A shared sewer system consists of certain elements that must be present to provide a safe and efficient delivery of effluents from each dwelling tied into the system. These elements include a separate septic tank for each dwelling, connections from each dwelling to the main trunk line, a filter to prevent microbial organism growth due to a lack of oxygen (anaerobic filter), a treatment tank for recirculation of effluents, and what is known as a drainfield.

Conditions of a Shared Sewer Agreement

The legal requirements for a shared sewer agreement vary according to state and municipal charters. Some municipalities place conditions on those instances when properties tie into the same lines. The city of Portland, Oregon, requires that owners of dwellings who choose to share wastewater systems must sign an agreement. This agreement addresses the maintenance of the system and easement issues for installation of additional plumbing lines that may be added to the shared sewer system. The agreement is required to be recorded on the deeds of the individual properties and archived by the city.

Development Agreements

Some states require a shared sewer agreement before construction of a large residential development begins. The state of Maryland has such a stipulation that comes into play during the proposal phase, when necessary studies and permits are mandated by the Maryland Department of Power and Water. This agreement is required only after all construction plans have been submitted for approval to the state planning and zoning department.

In some cases, a shared sewer agreement is non-existent even though one property owner has tied into a neighbor’s system. The reasons for the connection are not necessarily the responsibility of the neighbor who owns the sewer line, and in some instances the connection is made without the owner's knowledge or consent. According to Blake Lipman, an attorney practicing in the state of Michigan, a court order may be needed to force a party to maintain his own sewer main in the event of a plumbing problem with a connecting line that directly affects the owner's line.

Informal Agreements

The agreement to share a sewer line is often an informal one, due to a lack of universality in regulatory oversight. It is advisable to have some form of written agreement as to the repair and maintenance of a shared sewer system, to avoid legal problems should major problems occur to either property as a result of a sewer line breakdown.