Big Island

When Wastewater Matters in a Sale

For years, those of us who live on Hawaii Island have heard that we should prepare to transition from cesspools to septic systems with all new residential construction. For the most part, homes near the ocean and those located on lots under an acre have required the use of septic systems for some time.


Amazing bathroom in HPP (MLS# 289932)

Homes Here Can Be on Cesspool, Septic, or Sewer

Although public sewer lines service portions of Hilo, cesspools are still the norm. I’m sure it’s not the first thing a buyer thinks about, but there are valid reasons why a buyer should pay attention to how sewage waste is disposed.

Sellers are required to inform buyers of past problems with their system. Additionally, the standard disclosure asks the seller for the cesspool or septic location. Sellers do not always know. As part of the listing process, most REALTORS® request permit information, including wastewater. While the County of Hawaii provides information about building permits, the State Department of Health maintains information regarding wastewater permits and locations.

On older homes, owners were completely responsible for ensuring the state inspection was conducted. Many owners mistakenly assumed the inspection was part of the plumbing permit, which is a county vs state permit. The confusion resulted in spotty compliance with inspection requirements. It was entirely possible to obtain the county building final without the state required cesspool inspection.

Procedures have changed. The inspection is now supposed to be integral to the building process. Still, there are times that inspections are missing even with new construction. Fortunately, there’s normally an inexpensive and simple solution to correct this inspection requirement. The wastewater engineer is really responsible for certifying the cesspool corresponds with their drawing.

Buyer Beware of Proper Sewage Disposal

Unlike many states, sellers are not required to pump their systems, even septic systems that have a holding tank, prior to sale. Interestingly, I have heard the comment that proof of wastewater inspections is not required for a sale. By extension this implies that neither are building permits. While individual wastewater issues may be easy to correct, “gang” cesspools are such a confusing subject that we normally defer questions to the experts. Even then we are likely to get conflicting answers.

Buyers for dwellings with multiple living units should make a detailed inquiry regarding the wastewater system. Complying with EPA rules that have been in effect since April 2005, may require that owners immediately retrofit their system or face huge fines. It’s very difficult to sell a home that does not comply with the EPA requirement. While Ohana homes or homes with multiple living units may not be directly under the EPA radar, compliance is still required. Learn more, or call for a referral to my favorite wastewater engineers.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but buyers I work with usually want to know that not only is their home up to snuff, they want some assurance that nothing “stinks” when it comes to their wastewater disposal!

About the Author

Denise Nakanishi

Denise Nakanishi is a REALTOR Broker with Hawai'i Life. Denise Nakanishi is one of Hilo's most acclaimed real estate agents. She reached the rank of Major in the US Army and is now known by many as "Major Mom." The nickname fits–not only does Denise bring the discipline and mission-oriented attitude you'd expect, she's also caring and compassionate, always looking out for her clients like they're her own family. Having made the Big Island her home since 1987, Denise combines her extensive knowledge of the area with a sharp focus on customer service and the results speak for themselves. She's the recent recipient of the Best East Hawai`i, Best of Zillow, Chairman's Circle Award, President's Circle, Top Producing Agent since 2001, and Realtor of the Year awards. Denise stays ahead of the curve because she's passionate about education–she served as Education Chair for Hawaii Island REALTORS® for many years. She's one of Big Island's best real estate resources, known for her weekly article in the Hawaii Tribune Herald. Denise leads Team Nakanishi for Hawai`i Life, who is committed to their family, work, and community. In her little time away from work, Denise is a committed runner and Grandy. She also devotes many hours to various Veterans' Organizations, the East Hawaii Cultural Center, and the Hawaii Island REALTORS®. You can email me at or via phone at (808) 936-5100.

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