“I am having on-going issues with a neighbour who has a defective sewerage tank. I contacted the Council who have said there are no issues but everyday the smell is unbearable. I now have health issues as a result. I have got an independent review who say there is an issue but the Council are telling me that I will have to engage a solicitor as they can’t see any issues. Have you any advice?

ANSWER: Domestic wastewater treatment systems such as septic tanks collect, treat and discharge waste water from households that are not connected to public sewer systems. If you have one of these, you must register it with the local authority for a fee of €50, otherwise you risk being convicted and fined up to €5,000. It can be inspected by a local authority to prevent any risk to the public and the environment.

Right of Complaint

If you are concerned about a neighbouring septic tank system and are not in a position to resolve it with them, you can contact the environment section of your city or county council. If the system is potentially contaminating your well, contact the local Environment Health Officer (EHO) also. You mention that you have contacted the council but you don’t specify whether they have carried out an inspection.

They normally carry out inspections as part of the investigation of complaints and it would be worth formally querying with the local authority whether an inspection has been carried out following your complaint. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a national overview of inspection results, they do not have a duty to disclose these.

Inspection by Local Authority

Inspectors are appointed by the EPA. The local authority normally gives at least 10 days notice before an inspection is carried out. The inspector will check manholes and pipework for leaks and will also ensure there is not an excess of sludge in the system.

They will also examine the drains to confirm that wastewater and greywater are entering the system where they can be treated and that roofwater and surface water are not entering the tank as that may cause flooding. The percolation area will be checked for signs of ponding as well as nearby ditches and drains for discharge pipes and signs of pollution. The system will be checked for nuisance, odours and noise.

If the treatment system is working properly, a certificate will be provided to the owner to confirm this. If the inspector finds any issues with the system, the owner will get an advisory notice within 21 days of the inspection. This notice will outline any problems with the system and give the owner a certain amount of time to fix the problem, the cost of which may be eligible for grant funding.

Right of Complaint to the District Court

Section 70 of the Water Services Act, 2007 gives people the right to complain to the District Court if they are affected by the failure of another person to meet the duty of care requirements of that section.

It places a duty of care on the owner of a premises to ensure that their treatment system does not cause a risk to human health or the environment or creates a nuisance through odours. You, as the person affected by an alleged failure of your neighbour to comply with their duty of care, can complain to the District Court and the Court may order the third party, that being your neighbours, to take the measures necessary to comply with their obligations under the duty of care.

Engagement with Neighbour

Before doing this, you as the person concerned should serve a notice to your neighbour of your intention to make this complaint to the District Court.

Before doing this though, I would suggest you request in writing proof that their septic tank is meeting the required standard either through a certificate from the local authority following inspection or their own independent report. I would warn them that if they fail to respond to you or engage in any meaningful way that you intend to make a complaint to the District Court and that you will rely on this letter to support your application.

If it is a case that your neighbour produces evidence contradicting your independent report, you should have the independent experts discuss their findings before any court appearance. This is to try and reach consensus and minimise issues between you both and avoid wasting court time, if it does end there.

In any event, it should serve to get your neighbour to engage with you in an effort to try and resolve the problem.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended as a general guide only. While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, Aisling Meehan, Agricultural Solicitors does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. Email ameehan@farmersjournal.ie