Converting a room to an additional bedroom may cause you pain 

In today’s economy it is especially important for a selling homeowner to squeeze as much value out of their property as possible. 

One of the ways an owner will seek to add value (especially with an older home) is to convert a formal living room, study, den or bonus room into a bedroom. 

Simply add a closet and voila—an additional bedroom. Now the home can be advertised and valued as a three or four bedroom home, right?   

Not so fast. 

If the home is out in the county serviced by an on-site sewage system, a problem may be lurking beneath the surface. This is a problem that affects the home seller as well as his real estate agent. 

"Septic" or "Improvement" permits are issued by the local county health department upon application of the property owner. A health department environmental health specialist will visit the property and perform a test of the soil (Perk Test) to determine the suitability and capability of the soil for an on-site sewage system. 

If the soil is suitable for an on-site sewage system, the health department will issue a septic permit specifying the maximum number of occupants allowed for the on-site sewage system applied for. The occupancy number is usually stated as the number of bedrooms allowed based on two people per bedroom, and the permit must be issued before any construction can begin. 

You probably don’t need a crystal ball to see where this is going. 

Once the owner converts the extra room into a bedroom, the home may no longer be in compliance with the septic permit that was issued.  If the home has a septic permit for a three-bedroom home and is being sold as a four-bedroom home or a three- or four-bedroom home, it is a material misrepresentation that could subject the seller to liability in the future. 

In addition, because real estate brokers or agents hold themselves out to possess special knowledge, skills, understanding and information related to real estate, they could be open to a claim and liability for not verifying the on-site sewage system was approved for four bedrooms. 

This issue will inevitably bubble to the surface (no pun intended) once the buyer begins to use the home as a four-bedroom home, and the on-site sewage system fails. If the on-site sewage system fails, the health department may prohibit further use of the system and therefore prohibit occupancy of the home. The system may be repairable or maybe not. Even if the system is repairable, the health department may actually reduce the occupancy limits. 

The good news is that the permits are a matter of public record and can be found at the local health department. Before you sell or list a home for sale that utilizes an on-site sewage system, be sure to verify the number of permitted bedrooms.

Published on November 30, 2015