The private sewer service lateral (also known as a private lateral) is a pipe that takes an individual building’s wastewater to the public sewer main in the street. These private laterals are owned by the building owner and are essential for directing wastewater away from nearby structures such as other homes.


Did you know that unincorporated-Santa Cruz County, Capitola City, and soon to be Santa Cruz City all have point-of-sale requirement under certain circumstances to inspect this sewer lateral when selling a piece of real estate  that is attached to a public sewer system? Read more about these requirements below. 


The Santa Cruz County Sanitation District is responsible for managing the sewer system from Live Oak down to Aptos, including Capitola City. As of now, there is a law in place that states that: before close of escrow it is required that any property which 1) includes structures connected to a sanitary sewer main, 2) which as been constructed more than twenty years before the date of sale and 3) which has as not been inspected in the past twenty years must have a sanitary sewer system inspected and certified by a licensed plumber and confirmed to be in good working order and free of obstructions and breaks.


Additionally, owners are responsible for the maintenance of and repairing any issues that may occur with their sewer lateral. This can be serious if a major issue occurs with the home’s private lateral. According to county-law, if a sanitary sewer overflow occurs which flows off the property and the owner fails to stop it immediately, the District has the right to enter the home and stop the overflow. The owner will then be required to reimburse the district for any fines incurred as a result of the overflow and its repair.


As of now, there is no enforcement mechanism in place to ensure property owners are meeting their responsibilities, though a stronger enforcement mechanism may be developed in the future. You can read more about private sewer lateral requirements here.


Santa Cruz City has its own waste management program and wastewater related regulations. If you plan to purchase property in the City of Santa Cruz, proposed-changes to these regulations will create a point-of-sale requirement that you should be aware of. While these changes have not yet been approved, City Council will likely give their final approval in May or June 2018. The actual time when certain portions of the modified ordinance are in effect will be rolled out gradually.


According to the City of Santa Cruz and Coastal Watershed Council’s new blog, the three main proposed changes to the sewer system ordinance are:


  • The owner of a property with a sewer spill is responsible for stopping the spill immediately and will be subject to fines and penalties if inspections and repairs are not made in a timely manner. This change will most likely go into effect within 30 days of the ordinance-approval.


  • Prior to the sale of a property, the property owner must have the sewer lateral inspected by an authorized inspector, make any needed repairs, and submit an inspection form to verify compliance (similar to what is now done with termite inspection). The seller retains the option of transferring the responsibility of any needed repairs to the buyer in the purchase agreement. The buyer must have the inspection completed within 90 days of close of sale. (The property is exempted if the lateral was constructed within 10 years or passed inspection within the past five years.) This would likely come into play around 1 year after the ordinance is adopted.


  • Private sanitary sewer collection systems and pumps must pass inspection every 10 years. Their pipelines must be cleaned every two to five years depending on size. Privately-owned pump stations must pass inspection every one to five years depending on size. These changes will be rolled out anywhere between 6 months and 12 months after the ordinance is adopted. This change will largely apply to condos, townhomes, and commercial buildings.


The Cities of Watsonville and Scotts Valley currently have no point-of-sale inspection requirement for residents. In case of failure and repair, the property owner is responsible for her or his private sewer lateral. These cities may follow Santa Cruz City’s example and propose an ordinance with a point-of-sale requirement in the future.


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