The Erie County Department of Health has suspended property transfer inspections for the 2022 season as of November 18, 2022. Property transfer inspections will resume in the spring. Please contact us with questions at (716) 961-6800.
Property Transfers Overview
Article IV Section 12 of the Erie County Sanitary Code requires that a Property Transfer Certification be issued by the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) prior to any transfer of title involving a property serviced by an onsite wastewater treatment (septic) system and/or an individual water supply (private well). This includes both residential and commercial properties that are intended for human occupancy. The purpose of the property transfer inspection is to ensure that the onsite wastewater treatment system is not discharging sewage to the ground surface. Sewage to the ground surface creates a public health and environmental hazard by introducing viruses and bacteria into the environment allowing for the potential to spread disease to humans and animals.
Around the time that a property is intended to transfer owners, the seller must submit an application and the required fee for a property transfer inspection.
- If the property is served by an onsite wastewater treatment system, but has public water, then the fee is $300.
- For a property served by an onsite wastewater treatment system, and a private drinking water well, the fee is $496.
- An outside professional engineer may be hired to complete the property transfer inspection. If a professional engineer is used, then the application must be submitted along with the ECDOH Property Transfer by Design Professional forms and the required $150 application fee. You may find this list of engineers helpful.
The ECDOH “Septic System Test Affidavit, Terms and Conditions” (found in the property transfer application) must be completed by the property owner and submitted with the property transfer application. The affidavit is a signed statement by the property owner that indicates the general status of the existing onsite wastewater treatment system, the date the septic tank was last pumped and that no deviations have been or will be made to the onsite wastewater treatment system that would impact the inspection/test results. The affidavit must be complete and signed by the property owner. A property transfer inspection will not be scheduled until a completed form is received.
One week after you have submitted your application and all required paperwork, please call our department at (716) 961-6800. We will transfer you to the appropriate inspector to discuss your property and schedule an appointment. To determine the status of your Property Transfer Certification inspection, you may call our office at (716) 961-6800 and ask for the sanitarian responsible for the town in which the property is located
Please note, our inspectors devote most of their workday to the field, therefore you will likely not speak to someone the day you call and will need to leave a message. Our inspectors will return your call as soon as possible.
Once the property transfer inspection has been completed, we will e-mail a copy of the outcome paperwork to all parties that have provided an e-mail address on the application. We will not be mailing hard copies or faxing copies of these documents. If you need a hard copy of the paperwork, you may request one by calling our office at (716) 961-6800 after the property transfer inspection has been completed.
- Property Transfer Application
- Waiver Application
- Property Transfer by Design Professionals
- Letter to Attorneys and Realtors
Property transfer inspections will not be performed on any property that has been vacant for more than 90 days. If the property has been vacant for less than 90 days, a property transfer inspection may be completed if there is a system of record and the water supply is metered. If you are unsure if a system of record exists for your property, please call our office at (716) 961-6800. Properties that have been vacant for more than 90 days, or properties vacant less than 90 days with no system of record and no water meter, must apply for a waiver.
An occupied property shall mean that there is a person or persons living in the home. To further define, the person or persons shall be performing normal water usage activities while living in the home, such as showering, laundry, cooking, dishes, etc. Having contractors, or a house sitter, visit the home to use water does not meet the definition of occupied.
Property Transfers and Weather
There are times when weather may prevent property transfer inspections from being completed. Frozen ground and snow cover prevent our inspectors from being able to conduct property transfer dye tests and to see the ground in the area of the onsite wastewater treatment system. Snow cover also prevents our inspectors from being able to properly inspect a drinking water well and the area surrounding the well. Once frozen ground and/or snow cover occurs, all property transfer inspections will be suspended for the remainder of the winter months. Dye tests will resume when temperatures are above freezing and snow cover is absent. Although rare, times of extreme rainfall may also prevent property transfer dye tests from being completed, and temporary suspensions of the program may be warranted.
Property Transfer Waivers
If the anticipated closing date of the property transfer is scheduled before an inspection can be performed, the home has been vacant for longer than 90 days, the home is vacant and has an unmetered water supply, or if additional time is needed for corrections to the existing onsite wastewater treatment system or water supply, a “Waiver of Property Transfer Certification” will be required to close on the property. The “Waiver of Property Transfer Certification” application must be completed by the purchaser and submitted with a $1,000 check or money order made payable to the Erie County Commissioner of Finance. By applying for a waiver, the purchaser agrees to allow an inspection of the onsite wastewater treatment system and/or water systems, and to assure that all necessary corrections will be made. The $1,000 waiver application fee will be refunded to the purchaser once a property transfer certification is issued. If the $1,000 is to be refunded to another party other than the purchaser, then the property transfer application must include an assignment. The assignment must include the name and mailing address of the party to receive the refund check, include consent by the purchaser to issue the refund to the intended party and be signed by the purchaser. If an assignment is not received with the waiver application, funds will be returned to the purchaser at the address of the property.
Preparing for a Property Transfer Inspection
Some important things to remember when preparing for a property transfer inspection:
- A responsible person, over 18 years of age, must be at the residence. Property transfer inspections typically take 3 days and you can expect our staff to be at your residence for approximately 1 ½ hours on each day. Access to the interior of the home is necessary for our staff to perform a plumbing inspection and to introduce dye into the system. Property transfer inspections are typically conducted Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm.
- Ensure that all wastewater lines (including laundry and utility sink discharges) are connected to the sewage disposal system and that gutter and sump pump lines are not connected. Water treatment discharges, such as water softener discharges, must be connected to the septic system with an air gap or other acceptable backflow prevention device.
- The area of the sewage disposal system must be free of tall grass, weeds, debris or other cover.
- Do NOT pump the septic tank.
- If your system is a sand filter, locate and uncover the pump tank or inspection tank that is located after the sand filter. If you are unsure where the tank is located please contact our department at (716) 961-6800. We may have a system on record for your property that will assist you with locating the tank.
- Ensure all pumps and alarms are functioning.
- If you have a private well:
- Ensure the area around your well is free from debris, tall grass, bushes, etc.
- If a decorative fixture covers your well, remove the fixture prior to your inspection.
- If there is an existing disinfection system (i.e. chlorination or an ultra-violet light unit) it must be operating at the time of inspection.
- Water treatment discharges, such as water softener discharges, must be connected to the septic system with an air gap or other acceptable backflow prevention device.
Property Transfers and Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems
To test the onsite wastewater treatment system, yellow-green tracing dye is introduced into the system. Our inspectors will run water while on the property and you will be required to run water to a specified amount prior to the final day of the inspection. Typically, for a residential property, you will be required to run 100 gallons of water per bedroom per day into the system. For most properties a dye test will be conducted over three days. If at the end of the test not enough water is run, then the dye test may need to be extended another day or canceled and restarted later. On occasion, more water than what is required is run during a property transfer inspection. In this case, the dye test may be canceled and rescheduled several weeks later. This will allow the system to rest and return to normal functionality. During the inspection, our inspectors will ensure that all wastewater lines are connected to the system. The inspector will also preform a visual inspection of the yard looking for signs of system failure, including yellow-green tracing dye.
Please be advised that proper inspection of an onsite wastewater treatment system requires that the ground surrounding the system be free of cover or debris to conduct the necessary testing. If, upon arrival at the property, it is noted that your system is overgrown with tall grasses, trees, bushes or is located under a building, patio, deck, etc., then the property transfer inspection will not be able to be completed. Once snow cover or frozen ground occurs, the ECDOH will suspend dye tests for the winter months.
If your home is currently served by an onsite wastewater treatment system, but is located within an area served by public sanitary sewers, then you may be required to connect to the available public sanitary sewer line. We recommend that you contact the owner of the public sanitary sewers to determine the requirements for connection to the public sanitary sewers. In general, the ECDOH recommends that you connect to the available public sanitary sewer and will require the connection dependent on the rules of the public sewer owner.
There are certain circumstances where a standard property transfer inspection will not be able to be performed. These would include:
- If your property is served by a sand filter with a direct discharge to a creek, stream, ditch, etc., you will be required to correct the discharge by installing either downstream absorption trenches or a complete new system. To determine the next step, we will collect a sample from the inspection tank following the sand filter and have it analyzed for biological oxygen demand (BOD). BOD is a generally accepted standard for determining whether a sand filter is functioning properly. If the results of the BOD sample indicate the system to be functioning at an acceptable level, BOD less than 25 mg/l, then you will be required to have downstream absorption trenches installed following the sand filter. A dye test will be performed following the installation of the downstream absorption trenches. If dye indicating failure is found at the ground surface, the system will be considered in failure and next steps will need to be determined. If the results indicate the sand filter to not be functioning at an acceptable level, BOD levels greater than 25 mg/l, you will be required to replace the entire septic system serving your property.
- If the home is served by an aerobic treatment unit, it is required that any aerobic treatment unit be serviced within one year of the property transfer inspection and that a copy of the inspection report be submitted to the department. If the aerobic unit is followed by a conventional leach field, sand filter, raised bed, etc., then a dye test will be performed. If the aerobic unit is directly discharging to a creek, stream, or ditch, then a sample for biological oxygen demand (BOD) will be taken from the effluent of the unit. BOD is an indicator of the system functionality. If the results indicate the system functioning at an acceptable level, BOD less than 25 mg/l, then you may be required to install a leach system or sand filter following the unit. If the sample result indicates the aerobic unit is not functioning as required, BOD results greater than 25 mg/l, you will be required to replace the entire system.
- For properties served by a sand filter that is less than ten years old, the dye test length may be reduced to one day. Whether a one day or three day dye test is run is dependent on the inspector's ability to view the sand filter effluent and the condition of the effluent. If the effluent appears to have poor color/clarity or has an odor, the inspector may decide to collect a BOD sample to ensure the functionality of the sand filter. If the results indicate the sand filter to not be functioning at an acceptable level, BOD levels greater than 25 mg/l, you will be required to replace the entire septic system serving your property.
- There may be other extraordinary circumstances that do not allow for a standard property transfer inspection to be conducted. These situations will be evaluated on an individual basis and a plan for testing the system will be determined based on the individual circumstances.
Property Transfer Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Failure
If your system fails the property transfer inspection. you will be required to replace the system. The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) will complete a site visit, and issue specifications for a new system to serve your property, after we receive an application and the required $300 fee. For more information regarding this process, please visit our onsite wastewater treatment system information page. You may hire an outside design professional to design a system for your property. If you choose to hire an outside engineer, please submit the required paperwork, application, and $300 fee to ECDOH for review and approval. In most cases, there is no repair that will correct the issue and allow for the system to function properly. A repair to a septic system consists of replacing a septic tank, replacing a broken pipe, replacing a broken distribution box, removal of a gravel box, or replacement of a pump. Removal and replacement of sand and distribution lines of a sand filter, or discontinuing the use of some leach lines and adding additional leach lines, are not considered a repair and will not be allowed.
Property Transfers and Private Drinking Water Wells
For the private water supply portion of the property transfer, the structure and location of the water supply is inspected and the water is tested for bacteriological quality. Please note, if there is an existing disinfection system (i.e. chlorination or an ultra-violet light unit) it must be operating at the time of inspection. If you need to have your water tested for other contaminants, such as nitrate, nitrite and lead, please complete the “Additional Sampling” form (found in the property transfer application) and submit with your property transfer application.
During our inspection of the drinking water supply we will look for:
- The way a well was constructed, such as drilled or excavated (dug).
- Is the well casing in good condition and does it extend at least 18 inches above grade?
- Is there the potential for surface waters to enter the well?
- Is the well cap secured to the casing and intact?
- If there is disinfection and is it operating?
- Are there any plumbing lines connected to the water system that could contain sewage, chemicals, or non-potable water?
- Are all water treatment discharges being directed to the septic system, and if so do they have an appropriate air gap or backflow prevention device?
Excavated (dug) Wells
An excavated (dug) well is constructed by making a large diameter excavation into a shallow aquifer, typically by hand digging or backhoe, and shoring the excavation with large diameter concrete rings or steel casing. Excavated (dug) wells are typically less than 20 feet deep and are susceptible to multiple forms of pollution and contamination. If your home is served by an excavated (dug) well, you will be required to have a NY State Department of Environmental Conservation registered well driller perform an inspection of the well. Based on the inspection results, you will be required to either install a filtration and (chlorine) disinfection system or abandon the well and install a new drilled well prior to issuance of a property transfer certification.
Bacteriological Sample Results
If your home is served by a private well, then a water sample will be collected by the Erie County Department of Health and submitted to the Erie County Public Health Laboratory to have it analyzed for bacteriological quality. Any repairs required to the well or water system must be completed prior to the bacteriological sample being taken. If the sample result is negative for bacteria, then the testing is complete. However, if the sample is positive for either total coliform or E.coli, you will be required to disinfect the well (see instructions for disinfection here). After the well is disinfected, the water must be re-sampled. If the re-sample is positive for total coliform or E.coli, then a permanent disinfection system must be installed. Once disinfection is installed a re-sample must be taken and analyzed for bacteriological quality. Chlorination is the preferred method of disinfection, however UV lights are acceptable if the water quality meets manufacturer’s recommendations.
A bacteriological sample may be collected during winter months, when property transfers have been suspended for the year, however this sample will be for informational purposes only and will not be used to determine if a property transfer certification should be issued. A bacteriological sample will be taken at the time of the dye test to be used for determination of property transfer certification.
f public water is available and accessible to your lot, you may be required to connect to the public water system. You will need to contact the water supplier to check on requirements for connection.
- Maintaining Your Septic System
- Septic System Operation and Maintenance
- Your Septic System - How it Functions & How to Care for It
- Top 10 Operation & Maintenance Tips for your Septic System
- Well Disinfection
Division of Environmental Health
503 Kensington Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14214
Map of Campus
Phone: 716-961-6800 (For Emergencies after regular business hours: 716-961-7898)