Property Owner’s Guide

Buying Property in the Iowa Great Lakes

Inspection holeThe last thing people think about before purchasing a house is the condition of the sewer.  Just because the water drains down the pipe doesn’t mean the sewer is in good condition.  Most people have a home inspection done before purchasing a house to check the electrical system, the insulation, HVAC system, the internal plumbing and much more.  Most home inspections only look at the internal sewer system of the house and nothing external.  The Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District recommends a few suggestions to new homeowners before purchasing a house.

The first is to have the private sewer line from the house to the sewer main inspected.  There are several private companies in the area that provide a camera service to do a private sewer line inspection.  The inspection gives you an indication if there are tree roots in the line, broken pipes, separated pipes or other issues with the private sewer line that may go bad in the near future.  The Sanitary District Ordinance does require inspection of private sewer lines for specific situations and have found about 75% of the private sewer lines do have some issues that can lead to a back up into the home in the future.  The private sewer line is the responsibility of the property owner to keep in compliance with the Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District ordinances.


While you have the sewer line inspected, it is a good idea to have the line located as well.  You will want to know where the sewer line comes out of the house, any bends it makes and where it enters the public sewer.  Most people don’t know where their private sewer line goes across their property.  This may limit additions to the property in the future.  Also, Iowa One Call is required before doing any digging, but they don’t cover private lines such as the private sewer.  This is another good reason why you should know where the private sewer runs on your property.

The sewer line inspection will also help a private landowner understand their sewer system.  A few sewer systems in the Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District don’t go directly to a public sewer system.  Some private sewer lines go to a private sewer collection system and then to the public sewer.  If a home’s sewer line goes to a private sewer collection system, then that property owner may be responsible for more than just the homes sewer line, you may have some responsibility for the collection system as well.  Most of this should be documented in the abstract of a property, but will most likely be found with a sewer inspection.

Sewer inspection

Plumbing code states that a sewer line should have clean outs about every 100 feet.  The distance is because most cleaning equipment for sewer lines only goes 100 to 150 feet.  The best way is to have a sewer clean out outside of the house so if someone needs to clean your line, they may not have go come inside your home to clean the sewer.

The Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary Sewer system has been in operation going back to the 1930’s.  Several homes were built in the area prior to the existence of the public sewer system.  As sewer extended around the Iowa Great Lakes the sewer line was generally placed to make connection to the small cottages easy.  The public sewer line in several situations ended up close to the old septic tank or pipes to the lake.  Around the lakes, the generally will place the public sewer between the house and the lake.  The Sanitary District sewer lines has easements to allow for ingress and egress, maintenance, construction and re-construction of the sewer line.  These easements do not allow structures to be built on, over or under the easement area.  When purchasing a home make sure you know where the easements are located on your property and what can happen on or in those easement areas.  The public sewer system is vital to the water quality of the Iowa Great Lakes and public health.  The Trustees of the Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District defend the easements to ensure that sewer maintenance can continue and during emergencies that the sewer can be fixed a quickly as possible.

The Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District sewer goes around all the lakes with the exception of Little Spirit and Center Lake.  The sewer pipes were installed starting back in the 1930’s and can be found in several locations to include private property.  The Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District has easements for its facilities on private property.  Before purchasing a house it is best to know where the public sewer is located.  If the public sewer is located on a private lot it will have a easement that can be any where from 20 to 50 feet wide.  The easement prohibits structures to include some types of landscaping from being installed on the easement area.  The easement is there for construction, reconstruction and maintenance of the public sewer system.  Anything in the sewer easement needs to be approved.  All items that are placed in the easement are not the responsibility of the Sanitary District to replace.  This generally becomes an issue when property owners want to add on to a home but the public sewer easement is to close to their house.  IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PROPERTY OWNER TO KNOW WHERE YOUR EASEMENTS ARE LOCATED AND YOU WHAT YOU CAN DO WITHIN THOSE EASEMENT AREAS.

The last item before purchasing a home it to make sure that the sewer bill has been paid in full by the previous property owner.  The bills have a base rate and usage rate.  In most cases the water meter reading will need to be done on the closing date, and then billing will be sent out to previous property owner, once we received the last meter reading from the water facility.  Under Iowa Code Section 358 any unpaid sewer bills as of June of any given year will be placed on the taxes of the property for the next fiscal year.

Selling a Property in the Iowa Great Lakes 

You will want to read what we have listed above for the people looking to buy property in the Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District.  These are steps that should be done when ever buying a property.  When it comes to the sewer, the seller may be able to help the house sale move along by having these steps accomplished.  If you decided to camera the sewer line, see if it can be recorded on video with a date to show the perspective buyers the condition of your private sewer.  The sewer line is located using flags or pins in the ground.  This will help you keep it located.  Keeping payments up to date is very important when selling a property.  When a closing date is set, your Realtor can go online and fill out the Real Estate Transaction Form and that will get all the needed information to the Sanitary District for the sale of the property.  At that time the Realtor will be informed about any unpaid fees that might be due on the property.


Wet wipes, disposable wipes, cleaning wipes and even paper towels are not to be flushed down the toilet.  Wipes generally don’t break down like toilet paper and will pull private and public sewer lines causing sewer back ups.  Wipes get stuck in pumps and can cause thousands of dollars in damages.  It you are using wipe of any type for any reason, place them in the trash!