How to Educate Your Tenants about Using a Septic System

Written on March 15, 2016 by , updated on December 9, 2016

septic-trainingIn Part 1 of this series, we discussed the various problems that might arise from having a septic system at the a rental. In this sequel article, we’ll discuss the various ways you can teach your tenants how to use a septic system responsibly.

Approximately 1 in 4 U.S. residents rely on wells and septic systems. That’s a lot of people!

If your rental property depends on a septic system, it’s crucial that your tenants know the do’s and don’ts of its operation. Otherwise, you could end up with some big problems, not to mention hysterical phone calls regarding backed-up sewage.

If your tenant has always lived in dwellings with city water and sewer, there’s a significant learning curve when learning to use a septic system.

Provide Pamphlets on Septic Systems

Provide written information to the tenant on the basics of living with a septic system. It’s likely your town has such brochures if many residents use septic systems.

You can also download information to present to your tenants. If they have any questions about what is or isn’t safe to use on a septic system, have them contact you.

Drains 101

Give your tenants a basic tutorial on drain care, and how to use toilets, sinks, tubs, and showers. Here are some examples:

  • Never pour grease down the drain. Pour grease into a container and dispose of it as solid waste.
  • Scrape food waste into the garbage, not down the drain.
  • Nothing that doesn’t come out of a human goes into the toilet except toilet paper.
  • Place baby wipes in the garbage.
  • Avoid long showers.
  • Report any drain issues to the landlord as soon as possible.

Washing Machine

If the property includes a washing machine, inform your tenant before they move in, that washing more than one full load daily — or perhaps two if the loads are spaced by about 12 hours — is the limit for the drain field.

For most people, this isn’t a problem, but tenants with infants and young kids tend to do a lot of laundry.

Cleaning Needs

Provide your tenants with a list of septic-safe cleaning products for the toilets and all drains.

  1. They should use bleach sparingly, if at all,  in the washing machine.
  2. Only the minimal amount of laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid should be used in the dispensers when washing clothes and dishes.
  3. Anything labeled “antiseptic” is out — these products kill the “good” bacteria necessary for the septic to function.

Regular Pumping

You’re responsible for ensuring that the dwelling remains in habitable condition. Usually, the tenant is responsible for plumbing repairs if they flushed items such as sanitary napkins or diapers down the toilet. But you’re responsible for regular pumping of the septic tank and repairs to the system.

Pumping is usually necessary every three to four years.

This depends, however, on the number of people living in the rental, the health of the septic system, and the quality of the soil.

Pumping a septic tank is important maintenance and is not something you should leave up to your tenant.

Check your state and local laws, as some jurisdictions mandate how often septic tanks require pumping.

You might want to consider including a lease addendum to mitigate the responsibility for improper use.

Water Softeners

It’s likely a property dependent on well water will require a water softener, both to give drinking water a more palatable taste and to keep iron deposits from staining fixtures and clothing.

Maintaining the water softener is the landlord’s responsibility. Discuss ahead of time who will keep the softener filled with salt. That information should be included in the lease. Figure the monthly amount of salt needed and the cost into the amount of rent you’re charging.

You should provide the salt, even if the tenant is putting it into the softener as needed.

Party Poopers

If your septic tank’s capacity is limited, let your tenants know upfront, and include information in the lease about limiting the number of guests on the property. A gathering of 10 or so is probably okay — a party with 100 visitors flushing the toilets probably isn’t.

An overflowing septic tank will not only ruin a good party (!), the place will probably be temporarily uninhabitable.

The Septic Field

Warn tenants not to plant gardens (especially vegetable gardens) near the septic tank. The vegetables will probably become contaminated by the wastewater. Need we say more?

Tenants should also do no landscaping near the septic tank or place any heavy objects in the septic drainage field.

Let the tenants know exactly where the septic field is, along with suitable areas for gardens or outdoor activities.

Contact You

Inform your tenants to contact you immediately if they notice any permanent wet spots or bad odors emanating from the septic field.

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9 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Lisa Fretwell

    I live in a house 275 Marino red Phil Campbell,Al 35581 there is no sewer or septic. Lines or proper tank. I am 100% disabled. The landlord has treated me inhumane. There is nit even a toilet. She has denied me utilities by not giving me the proper paperwork. Please help. I have no where else to go. I have dud all kinds of work on her property already.

  • Maxine Wilson

    It’s good to know that you need to be careful about having a ton of people over if you have a septic system. My husband and I just bought a cabin, and it has a septic tank system. We are both new to taking care of it, so we have lots to learn. I’ll be sure to keep in mind if we have lots of people come stay with us in our cabin, we’ll be careful about the flushing.

  • Wilhelmina

    With all these silly wetsebis, such a great page keeps my internet hope alive.

  • Sheryl WIlls

    I have tenants that continues to put things down the toilet which keeps causes my septic to back up. I’ve spent 875.00 so far for pumping and treatment to the tank. 3 months later the septic is over flowing again. Can I force them to pay for the damage to my floors and pay to get the tank pumped again? Also, can I evict them for neglect?

    • Dianne

      I am a renter. Ive only been in this house for 8mos. During this time my septic tank has backed up into my basement 4 times. Currently I cant do so much as pour 1 cup of water down the drain and it will spill onto the basement floor. Everytime this happens it seems to be a Friday or Saturday evening. The rental company remains non-responsive…even though I contact the property manager on his personal phone. They tend to wait until a weekday to fix the issue. I have children that need showers for school..we need clean clothing. Im considering paying for someone to fix it and deducting that amount from the rent. This is an emergency. I should not have to spend money on a room or crash at someone’s house. I pay my rent!!

  • Cathy W

    I reported to my landlord of 5 years now in May 2019 that the septic system wasnt working. The drains were slowing , the circuit breaker for the pump had kicked off and light bill for prior month was high due to pump failure. He ignored all reports and didnt make repairs. Told him i cant use system and would with hold rent until repaired with proof. Landlord harrassed me for money and in July 2019 took me to court after I made an official complaint with DEP and township who sent a sewer officer to I spect and he found many problems including live wires laying in effluent water. Violation and repair for septic was issued and landlord did nothing. I have been a non problem tenant for 5 years and no where to go. Any help?

  • Jennifer

    I am currently renting a unit in a 3 family home. Our unit is the only one on septic, which we did not know upon move in. Our lease outlines that we are responsible for any drain clogs or stoppages.
    When our toilet got backed up, we contacted the landlord (as our lease agreement states to do) and they gave us a name and number to call for repairs. They never mentioned to us who would be responsible for repairs and simply advised us to call. After their plumbers came out, they informed us that baby wipes in the system caused the clog, which they’re claiming cost $640 to repair and required 2 plumbers. We had no idea of the cost up front and are now expected to pay as they quoted we “failed to maintain” the plumbing. Is this legal to do?

  • 707 Tenant

    I live in California in an apartment complex with 20 units. There has been a lot of issues with tenants putting inappropriate things down the toilets causing weekly septic problems. Now the manager wants to put signs above all the toilets in every unit. I understand the importance of educating the tenants in this matter but I feel that the signs are an invasion of privacy. I understand that these are low income, Federally funded, but I like to have the decision of what signs and decorations are in the space that I rent. I should not have to be constantly reminded that I am being controlled and delegated. Does anyone know of the legalities regarding the signs?

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