It’s cottage season and the onset of warm weather is an inspiration to start thinking seriously about investing in that summer retreat you’ve always dreamed of owning. A note of caution: a cottage is not an urban property – there are a number of specific issues associated with lots that must be incorporated into a buyer’s search criteria.

Septic systems

First off, smart cottage shoppers should educate themselves about septic systems. Most rural lots have them and the installation can be a major expense (often $10,000 – $15,000, or more in difficult terrain.) For those unfamiliar, a septic is a small privately owned subsurface sewage disposal tank located on the property that exclusively services the residence. A septic tank is part of a septic system that includes a septic bed beneath the surface that receives the treated outflow from the tank itself. As most cottage lots don’t have access to the municipal sewage system, these are extremely important. They help furnish the cottage with the same modern conveniences that would be expected in an urban home. The size of the tank is mainly contingent on the size of your lot and the number of bedrooms in the residence.

A septic tank is different from a holding tank. The latter type of tank, as its name suggests, merely holds sewage and does not treat it in any way. Such a tank needs to be pumped out at regular intervals.

Inspections and approvals

Cottage buyers should be aware of what type of sewage disposal system the cottage has and whether the proper approvals have been obtained. Every cottage will require a professional septic inspection as a condition of purchase. This will ensure that any problem detected with the septic system are identified by the buyer at an early stage and passed on to the vendor to address. A search of municipal records to ascertain whether the necessary approvals have been obtained for an existing septic tank system is recommended prior to closing a purchase.

It is common for older cottages to have steel septic tanks which will often need to be replaced. The installation and operation of septic systems is regulated under Part 8 of the Building Code. It sets out different classes of septic system; the most common type for cottages is Class 4 septic tanks. New regulations require that a licensed installer do the installation.

Regulating authority

In Ontario, cottage property may be either in organized municipalities or in townships that do not have a municipal government structure. When in organized municipalities, the regulating body is the local building or health department. Otherwise, the regulating authority is the Ministry of Natural Resources. All septic systems must be in compliance with the requirements of the Ontario Building Code. Failure to comply will incur significant cost consequences that new buyers will most likely want to avoid.

Finding the right cottage property can be challenging. It is strongly advised that when looking for a cottage you use a local real estate agent who is familiar with the area and knowledgeable about the particular issues pertaining to cottage dwellings.