Non conforming fosse. Had the report - what next?

When we bought our house in 2005 we knew the fosse didn't conform to the new regulations because it was too small at fifteen hundred litres for a three bedroomed house. We didn't have to do anything about it at the time because the village were planning to provide mains drainage. A new maire later and those plans were shelved because it's too costly a venture.

The maire arranged for us all to have the obligatory inspections, at the last minute or even later than it was supposed to happen. My inspector didn't look at the fosse or the grease trap and said in the report that I should locate them and make them available for opening. (I showed her exactly where they were and offered to open them but she said it wasn't necessary). She asked the size of the fosse and where the drain field was and I asked the guy over the road to come and explain, as he'd had it all done when he owned the house. She asked me to get the fosse emptied and keep the receipt as proof of the size of it, ready for the next inspection. The size of it wasn't mentioned in the report. Finally, the report mentioned that the drainage system needed updating to something more modern as it's currently some sort of gravel soak away.

I haven't actually been told I need to get the system updated but presumably by the next time they come they'll expect the hatches to be available and the drainage system to have been updated and then they'll tell me my fosse is too small and I'll have to get that done. Or will they expect me to have had the whole system updated by the time of the next inspection?

I don't have the money to do the work. I've heard that interest free loans are available but I assume I'd still need a certain income level to be eligible for one of those. The date on the report is some time next year so I'm wondering what will happen next? Will they turn up on that date to do another inspection? What if I haven't done anything? Will I be prosecuted?

I've heard some say that they can't do anything unless they can prove that the system is causing a problem. Others say that people are being fined for not correcting what was highlighted in the report. Has anyone any experience of what actually happens next?

I guess I could ask the maire but I worry I'd highlight it and then he'd chase me up to get the work done.

Look, Ian you are a rare species here in France. I certainly have no idea what I am saying, in my case I am repeating what either people having installations or looking to are saying or listen to my OH recanting the messes that are legion out there. I suspect all of us with something to say here are in much the same boat and not in Keith or your own better informed positions. I came in because we need to know and that may be the Damocles' sword that falls sooner than we would wish. So you may criticise comments but that is because in many cases people are not informed as much as they try to find out and as you can see there is a lot of contradictory information about, for instance, only trusting notaires and similar suggestions. Since too many maires run little fiefdoms they can misinform and make up so-called regulations to their heart's content and for some people there is no other 'easy' source of any information.

In that sense, I find your opening paragraph very unsympathetic and, thus, unhelpful to the point that it could demoralise a few people. So the final sentence of that paragraph comes out rather rude and makes you look rather like some of the people who seem to look for a fight for the sakes of it, which I suspect was not your intention. Try doing it like Keith who is encouraging getting proper information and offering it and then your contribution will come through as I believe you intend it to.

But above all, our local SPANC inspector does have an entirely different background to her present job and probably what Keith says about the extent of training is true, however she wishes to be professional and finds out what she does not know to make her (more) effective at her job. I have enough faith in humanity to believe she is not one off and thus don't think they should all be tarred with the same brush. As for the box ticking, well that is at the behest of law makers to deal with politically and not to lay at the feet of people who are, after all, like the rest of us, trying to earn a crust.

Hear hear, Keith ! There seem to be a lot of “barrack room lawyers” out there (including regular contributors who feel they simply have to say something, whether useful or not) giving bad advice. Far better if they prefaced their remarks with "I have no idea what I’m talking about but …"
Most of my work is undertaking detailed pre-purchase surveys for buyers of French property; at least half the houses I Iook at are not connected to a public sewer and in my reports I advise on what drainage improvements, if any, should be allowed for. However, what worries me is the dismal quality of many of the reports I see, produced by the “authorities” - some of whose inspectors display what seems to be a high element of incompetence. All too often I see a report where the inspector has relied on what he/she has been told by the present owner/vendor and obviously hasn’t done anything like a proper inspection, if at all. The most recent report I saw, about 10 days ago, comprised 6 pages of questions and tick boxes, more than half of which had not been answered. Why ?
I specialised in drainage and drainage disposal when I commenced my surveying career 45 years ago: I ask myself “how much training do these inspectors get, and do they have any professional qualifications ?”

OK, thanks. And I guess the benefit of such a system is that unlike a normal fosse there's no need for the champ d'épendage. That alone must reduce the costs considerably, not to mention the disruption.

My OH is selling here in 24, it is strange as you say. What one commune will allow and the next does not necessarily compare even though here the same SPANC inspector covers several that have small differences. Whatever the real regulations, the maire of St A. for instance, will not have the new systems in 'his' domain which has deterred several people from buying (all French who know as against foreigners). People like you with good advice are thin on the ground with people giving it basically 'guessing' on the basis of mainly pre-2012 regulations and not really knowing the newer ones. As you say, there is a lot of bad advice and what my OH is getting is a pastiche of different things that I am repeating. At least seeing what people are doing in the immediate vicinity is some kind of guidance but precise details, ahem, ahem... Therefore, probably what I am repeating is also far more inaccurate (bar the price the man near us paid) than we know. I would like to see you prepare and put up something to get us all there on the Useful Links pages.

So, if I stroke you nicely... ;-)

Down the way from us the people had a Clereflow 4000 litre installation. Including drilling out base rock but no blasting everything came to about €6800. If you need more than just big diggers and drilling then it gets very costly. We were warned that up to €18,000 for a fosse toutes eaux on the base rock where we need to have it was what stopped us given we probably had €18 but missed the row of zeros at the time. With the local installations recently it appears that if one goes to a company who can do the lot it can be far more expensive than getting separate operatives to excavate, transport and install. Since, as I said earlier, I will probably go out fact finding with our neighbour soon then perhaps I'll know more and can say. However, the €6800 job was done by three contractors (excavation, supplier delivered and local plumbing company installed) and given the people are doing their work on a shoestring budget if there is any subvention available they are certain to have applied for it, so it is possibly a low ball park figure.

We had no idea. The notaire had essentially ignored it when we bought which was pre- the present regulations. Once my OH was selling houses she asked one of the people who does installations to come to 'advise' us since she was getting him a fair bit of trade. It took him five minutes. He found the plate with the volume etc in a few seconds and immediately said it is in the wrong position. Just about the whole thing is wrong but when it was installed 30 or so years ago nobody bothered much since it was a modern innovation in rural backwoods. If there is a mandatory inspection once the new canton is operational, as our maire is suggesting is on the cards, then we at least know. How many other people who have been here a while will know though? It may come as a nasty shock to people who were previously blissfully ignorant. Certainly people just on the literal edge of the commune above us who did a house swap had no idea. It is a 'modern' bungalow built in 1984 under the then existing regime. After the present people were in before the swap formalities were completed, they had a SPANC visit and were advised by the woman that they had should do it now, a year maximum and would need heavy machinery and perhaps some rock blasting for installations. They have been 'rescued' in effected by the man with the barn conversion who installed his Clereflo system recently where the price would be more like his than the absurd sum quoted for a conventional fosse toutes eaux system.

What would be a ballpark figure for installation of a system like the Balmoral, assuming that there is no particular problem with soil stability or complicated plumbing arrangements? As much again as the unit itself?

I must say it does sound interesting. I need to get a quote for the intermediate tank plus pump to pump the untreated waste water to the sewers, but a friend had exactly such a system installed recently and his total bill was of the order of 17k euros.

I guess you can find installers just about anywhere, it must be pretty standard work between one system and another. I'm in Isère.


I agree with you Keith, we have just been through the whole drama. We have sold our house with a non conforming fosse and the new French owners have a year to make it conform. Rumour, just rumour, has it that around here anyway (Lot) they won't pounce all that quickly. Its an old house in a village and no one knows where anything goes! The local 'Responsable d'assainisement' was not helpful when I asked what I should do and asked if it was going to be a maison secondaire or lived in permanently. How would I know before I sold it?

She did say that I didn't have to do anything until it was sold. The trouble was also that we are on rock and there is insufficient space for the proper filter system - so the 'Responsable' said I must ask my neighbour if I could put it on his land; he wasn't at all keen on that!

The new build had a fosse and bac degraisseur delivered but not yet installed, so they are standing there for all to see. The man converting behind us who has been at it for nearly two decades and will finish this year is now going round the other local conversions and new builds to see, the other barn conversion is opposite him about 150m down the road and he was saying a few minutes ago that he is impressed by their installation and asking if I know about them. In fact, I don't and simply know of them so advised he goes to those people but that we are equally impressed and because we have to replace sooner or later might well join him on his visits to potential suppliers to have a good look. Until this thread started I knew of the Condor models (had even forgotten where I had bookmarked the site though) but nothing about how the things function really. I also had a 'look' at what a couple of the family places in the Alps have where there is no mains connection last week and in principle they are of that kind. So thanks for starting the thread Debra, it helps making the inevitable decision somewhat easier once we have the money. Our neighbour also just told me that there is money available to help fund the work which we will have to find out about.

Thank you Keith. That is the situation in many communes around here. As for your point about notaires, they often give bad information and advice as the one we dealt with when we bought did.

Seba inspected our fosse septique. We did not have any of the original plans and they did not need to determine exactly what pipe network existed in the ground for dissipation of the outflow. They inspect every eight years. I expect that, unless they have evidence of pollution from your fosse, nothing will need to be done by existing property owners, but it will become an issue if you sell the property, because the new owner will need to ensure that the system conforms to existing regulations within a certain period of time. I can't remember what that period of time is, but I may be able to check this out later. Hope this helps.

Yes, I'm talking about untreated waste water. Our problem is that part of the house is at street level, but we also have a lower floor with kitchen and toilet that is therefore unable to connect to mains sewers without a pump.

I guess I'd need to call a few places and have them come and talk to us. I just wonder, though, if the price of a system like one of the reed bed installations would be (or could be) at all competitive with that of a storage tank plus pump. Time will tell.

Keith, do you think it's always the best solution to use the main sewers when available?

What do you think of solutions that gather the waste water in a kind of mini fosse then pump them uphill (the height of one storey of a house) to the main sewer - better than a fosse or other independent system?

Well we had the same problem two years ago and when we bought the house at the last minute we were told that we would need to change our fosse. Well a letter arrived from a government org and we agreed an inspection date expecting to spend around 7,000e.

A young man arrived and said it was ok without inspecting - the previous owner had done something ensuring that it would conform (this knowing him I do not believe!) we were then told that we would not need a further inspection until 2021 hey ho 7,000e better off and really not concerned about 2021.

Thanks for the list.

What cheaper system would you recommnend - I assume by your comments that you consider Tricel a good and efficient system, if expensive out here?

We were given a lot of duff information about the fosse septique when we bought eight years ago, primarily that the previous owners and the selling agent did not know the whereabouts of the fosse.

Five years ago I had request via the maire for inspection. After a great deal of help I found the fosse under a tiled/concrete path - just outside the front door. Having been widowed I am not able, nor have any intention of doing anything about it! I was told then I must replace necessitating major reconstruction because of the ridiculous sighting - quote 27000 euros. So far I have ignored all correspondence!

I have discovered a wastewater treatment system made in Ireland and sold here under the name of The very helpful Irish firm have given me masses of information! In the UK cost only £1500 (smallest suitable up to eight people)! They tell me I cannot buy british and install not permitted. The french price I understand at least triple the price! Have not yet found a French supplier - the supplier who gave me all the brochures, withdrew his help two days later - Without explanation?? He now no longer will supply or fit!

I will buy and install the English/Irish made product (not advertising the origins of the system)that is if the maire confirms it is acceptable! As I do not have the money some time in the future. Comments please on the acceptability of this type of waste water treatmnent plant out here! I have a farm all the effluent (clean water??), when discharged would be under my own fields. No water systems or neighbours land to contaminate!

Thanks, a lot of reading there. :-)

Does anyone have a French website for Condor? How did you go about finding a supplier locally? The 1 to 3 year emptying rate seems very frequent compared to a classic fosse.

We are looking at having to install a kind of temporary fosse with pumping unit to send our waste water up to the main sewers. This thing could be an alternative. Maybe.

My scenario is this, 2 or 3 days before signing for my house, I being on my own and not understanding half of what I was doing, asked the owners about the Fosse, their answer had been, no problem you just put a pump here, (slab lifted in the garden) put a pump on it and then pump whatever through the barn out to the back field of the house..........what?!!! I had cesspits in 3 houses in the UK, the council came to my instruction 1 or 2 a year to empty no problems. so what was this about? I rang Leggetts the agents and, asked the girl who was dealing with my sale what was this about pumping through pumps and pipes into my huge barn and out to the field..........Oh she said, I'll ring the owners. She did and about half an hour later came back with Oh that's fine no problems, I took Leggetts at their word!! Silly me!!!. What I did not know and clearly both Leggetts and the owners did was that within 6 months of signing for house new legislation dictated that Fosse = size of house, and, what I then found out was my Fosse has no soak away system what so ever, hence the pump, barn, field.......and now after an inspection visit, I have been given 9500 Euros as the cheapest quote to sort not only the wrong size fosse for house, but, a new soak away system........thanks Leggetts and past owners!!! I have spoken to Trevor Leggett and am asking him for compensation, as had I known as clearly both Leggett and the old owners did that new legislation was just about to come into force I would have re-negotiated the price.