New septic rules in La Plata, Archuleta, and San Juan Counties

It’s now mandatory to have your septic system inspected prior to sale.


The rules for buying and selling homes with on-site wastewater treatment systems, or septic systems, have changed. Beginning January 1, 2019, most septic systems in Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan Counties must be inspected prior to the sale of a home. **There are a few exceptions - see the full exception list below.


Our knowledgeable brokers are ready to help you navigate these new rules, find a certified inspector, and submit the required septic system inspection paperwork, whether you’re buying or selling a home.

Why do we have these new rules?

To keep our water safe!
The new rules requiring inspections allow buyers and sellers to identify and repair failing and unsafe septic systems before they contaminate drinking water. The inspections also provide important information to both the buyer and the seller, which reduces unexpected repairs and other surprises. In addition, the new rules make it illegal to transfer most properties with septic systems without an Acceptance Document.

Since 1967,
San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) has regulated on-site wastewater treatment systems in La Plata, Archuleta, and San Juan Counties. When state and local lawmakers updated the rules for septic systems, San Juan Basin Public Health adopted new regulations which took effect January 1, 2019.


Rules for septic systems affect anyone who wants to instal, alter, expand, or repair a septic system, and sellers of property with septic systems.


How to obtain an Acceptance Document prior to closing:


  • Obtain and review all existing On-site Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) permits for the system. Contact San Juan Basin Public Health by phone at 970-335-2060 or email at to request a copy of existing OWTS permits from a specific address or parcel number.
  • Have a National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT) certified inspector verify that the system is functioning correctly and fill out a Transfer of Title Inspection Report found at here. Inspection reports are valid for twelve months. You can find certified inspectors by going to NAWT's website here, or contact THE DURANGO COLORADO GROUP We’re happy to make recommendations on local septic inspectors and servicing companies.
  • Ask your inspector if you will be required to have your septic system cleaned, or pumped, before or during inspection. If your system requires maintenance, have a licensed septic system cleaner service your system and provide you with a receipt. Reports from system cleaners expire after 12 months. Pumping the septic system is typically done at the same time as the inspection, and can even be done by the same company. Find cleaners at San Juan Basin Public Health, or contact THE DURANGO COLORADO GROUP We’re happy to make recommendations on local septic inspectors and servicing companies.
  • Fill out a Title Acceptance Document application found here. Submit the document, along with your septic tank inspection report from the last 12 months, and your septic tank servicing receipt to San Juan Basin Public Health. You can submit documents via email, in person at San Juan Basin Public Health’s offices in Durango or Pagosa Springs, or by mailing them.
  • Pay a $60 acceptance fee to San Juan Basin Public Health online or by mailing a check.


San Juan Basin Public Health plans to issue Acceptance Documents for approved systems within two business days of application. Acceptance Documents expire at the closing of the property sale, or after twelve months, whichever comes first.


Consult the links on the left for forms, to make payments, and for more information about on-site wastewater treatment systems.


Winter inspections:

When snow covers the ground, it can be difficult or even impossible to inspect an on-site wastewater treatment system. Freezing temperatures compound the problem by causing the ground to freeze, halting repair projects and anything requiring digging. To avoid delays caused by cold weather, San Juan Basin Public Health recommends getting inspections done in advance. When this isn’t possible, a Coldwell Banker Realtor can help you navigate the process and make informed decisions as a buyer or seller.


If you’re buying or selling a home in the winter and an inspection cannot be performed, or repairs cannot be completed, San Juan Basin Public Health can issue a Conditional Acceptance Document. In order to obtain a Conditional Acceptance Document the buyer needs to agree, in writing, to complete the necessary inspections and any repairs within a reasonable timeframe, usually 90 days. At Coldwell Banker we’ll help to ensure that your interests are protected during this process and that the sell is as smooth and stress free as possible.

THE DURANGO COLORADO GROUP if you have questions.


What happens if a septic system fails inspection?


During the inspection, an inspector will determine if the system is working correctly and if it requires any repairs or maintenance. The inspector will include all of their finding in the Operating Inspection Form that is submitted to San Juan Basin Public Health during the application process.


If the property owner needs to fix any problems with the septic system, or if the system needs to be expanded because its capacity is found to be too small, the owner must apply for an On-site Wastewater Treatment System permit from San Juan Basin Public Health. Very small repairs, such as adding a fence or replacing a tank lid, do not require a permit.


After an owner makes the required changes to a septic system, San Juan Basin Public Health will inspect the repairs. The owner does not need to have a new Transfer of Title inspection performed.


Apply and pay for OWTS permits at San Juan Basin Public Health


Exceptions and exemptions:

There are a few exceptions to the new permit rules:

  • The OWTS received a final permit from San Juan Basin Public Health within the last four years.
  • The transfer is not an arm’s length transaction, such as an inheritance or including a spouse.
  • The transfer is creating or ending joint ownership, with one original owner remaining on the title.
  • Creating trusts and LLCs in the same name as the original owner.
  • Foreclosures (note: sales of bank-owned properties will NOT be exempt).
  • Repair or alteration permits are active for the OWTS in question.

If you have questions about if your septic system is exempt, contact San Juan Basin Public Health.