Property Transfer Ordinance Goes into Effect

A recently passed ordinance in La Porte County could impact the local real estate market, particularly in the Hudson and Saugany Lake communities.

On April 6, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance which requires property sellers to have on-site septic systems inspected and potable water wells tested prior to closing on the transfer of a property.

The County Commissioners say the ordinance recognizes the need to protect the health and safety of residents by providing adequate information regarding the quality of drinking water and the status of the septic system before properties are acquired.

Results must be reported to both the buyer and the county health department.

County Commissioner Mike Bohacek notes that distressed properties or properties sold at auction were often subject to failing septic systems and wells, which caused long term health department issues. It also left the buyers of the property on the hook for necessary repairs after the fact.

Following the passage of the ordinance, the cost of the inspections and testing are borne by either the buyer, seller, or both in the closing costs. Water testing, for example, is available through the county for around $30.

The new ordinance does not apply to properties which have municipal water or sewer, but will affect properties at the lake communities.

“It is really a matter of making sure the drinking water is not being polluted,” Bohacek said. The ordinance adds a layer of security for those from out of town who buy lake properties as summer cottages and may not even know the property has a well.

According to Bohacek, the ordinance process was rather lengthy and deliberative.

“We utilized a big study group to make sure we had a workable ordinance,” he said. “It is not meant to impede the real estate process.”

Among that study group was a committee of real estate professionals, who were not necessarily opposed to the ordinance, but wanted to ensure it did not adversely affect the sale of property.

“The new La Porte County Property Transfer Ordinance could propose challenges on some property owners who go to sell their homes that have older, non-compliant water, well and/or septic systems,” Kim Huston of 1st Choice Realty Group in New Carlisle said.

Huston explained that St. Joseph County enacted a similar ordinance in 2005.

Hudson Lake Township Trustee Joyce Forbes has concerns that the ordinance does not address resolving the issue of non-compliance and anticipates the La Porte County Regional Sewer Board will take steps to help maintain property values and ensure requirements are met.

“Current codes would not permit these homes to be built today as they would not meet the code requirements for well and septic system placement,” Forbes said.

As previously mentioned, many of these homes were built as summer cottages and are on smaller lots in close proximity to each to each other.

“The Ordinance as currently adopted does not give guidance for non-compliance or any remedy to property owners who may have a septic system or well that would need replacement should the property have insufficient space for a new well and/or septic system,” she said.

Forbes also serves on the Hudson and Saugany Lake Sewer Committee, which has taken some preliminary steps in estimating the cost of installing and maintaining a sewer system for the lake communities.

“While we did not have anything to do with the direct implementation of this ordinance, we are happy that it will support the need for the County to see about a Community wastewater system,” she said.

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