Q. I have placed my house on the market and as it is an old house, the oil tank was originally buried in the backyard and a pipe ran to the oil fired furnace in the basement. I have since had the oil furnace replaced by a new gas burning furnace and disconnected the pipe, removed the oil furnace and repaired the hole in the wall where the pipe came in from the backyard. When speaking to my real estate agent about this occurrence she has told me I have to reveal the presence of the oil tank buried in the back yard. Isn’t this opening up a can of worms?
A. A can of worms is an understatement. Old oil tanks buried in soil are one of the most common environmental concerns in real estate (commercial and residential). The problem is that they corrode as they become older and often leak into the soil. If you have a property with a buried oil tank, you are under a positive obligation to inform any potential buyer of this issue and it is up to them to respond.
Some purchasers may not care and simply do some form of side deal lowering the purchase price thereby leaving the problem to be dealt with by the new owner (or the person who purchases from them). However, the purchaser could easily insert environmental conditions into their offer to purchase, which may include removal of the oil tank and soil testing after this has been completed. It can become quite complex and technical when you start adding environmental conditions to a house purchase.
So, buyer beware, you never know what is buried in the backyard — a skeleton or perhaps even an old oil tank.
– Jeffrey Cowan is the principal with Cowan Taylor and McGee, Barristers & Solicitors. The information in this article should not be relied upon as legal advice.