Massachusetts law about Title 5 and septic systems

Laws, regulations, cases and web sources on septic system law.

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Table of Contents

Title 5 itself

310 CMR 15 State Environmental Code, Title 5: standard requirements for the siting, construction, inspection, upgrade and expansion of on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems and for the transport and disposal of septage

Best bet

Septic systems and Title 5, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection.
Best source for all things Title 5 from the agency that regulates septic systems. Includes regulations, policies, forms, and guides covering inspections, licensing, consumer tips and more.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 21A, § 13 State environmental code; adoption; preparation of sewage disposal systems; enforcement of code

MGL c. 21A, § 13A System inspectors of on-site sewage disposal systems; penalty

MGL c. 59, § 5 [fifty-third] Property; exemptions

MGL c. 62, § 6(i) Credits
Tax credit for design and construction expenses for the repair or replacement of a failed cesspool or septic system. Septic tax credits were increased for tax years beginning January 1, 2023.

MGL c. 111, § 31E Individual sewage disposal systems; action on applications

MGL c. 111, § 127B 1/2 Repair, replacement or upgrade of a residential septic system; petition to Board of Health

Additional Massachusetts regulations

310 CMR 11 General application and administration environmental code, Title 1

310 CMR 70 Environmental results program certification

314 CMR 21 Massachusetts watershed permit regulations
This regulation provides a watershed permitting approach to control nitrogen and other pollutants from entering the Commonwealth’s coastal embayments and estuaries. Title 5 regulations now require all homeowners in designated nitrogen sensitive areas to upgrade their septic systems within 5 years unless their community obtains a watershed permit for their watershed.


Septic credit for repairing or replacing a failed cesspool or septic system, Mass. Department of Revenue, Schedule SC, 2023.

Title 5 septic system forms, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection.

Selected cases

McDonough v. Whalen, 365 Mass. 506, 512 (1974)
The plaintiffs sued for property damage and personal injuries caused by the negligent design and installation of a home septic system.  The court held “a builder or contractor may be liable for injuries or damage caused by his negligence to persons with whom he has no contractual relation and even though his work is completed and accepted by the owner before the injuries or damage occurred.”

Tortorella v. Board of Health of Bourne, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 277, 281 (1995)
When deciding whether to grant a variance from Title 5 requirements, the Board of Health may consider “other factors that are relevant to potential demands on the system.”  The broad discretion given to the Board is “based on the strong public interest in protecting health and the environment.”

Vanderwiel v. Jones, 1996 Mass.App.Div. 184 (1996)
Real estate broker violated M.G.L. c. 93A when she “…negligently convinced the buyer not to have septic system inspection.”  Court found that language in purchase and sale agreement releasing broker from liability for misrepresentation of facts was “against public policy and void.”

Web sources

2023 Massachusetts tax cuts legislation, Mass. Department of Revenue.
Scroll down for an explanation of the "Increase to the Septic Tax Credit", a change affecting only personal income taxpayers.

2023 Title 5 regulation changes, Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center, a Program of the Regional Government of Barnstable County, MA.
Explains the changes in the law affecting land in designated nitrogen-sensitive natural resource areas and the two alternatives to compliance: residence in a municipality that as applied for a Watershed Permit or the need to upgrade existing septic systems in towns that have chosen not to pursue a Watershed permit.

30 Watersheds impacted by new nitrogen pollution restrictions, Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Updates to septic system and watershed regulations, intended to combat nitrogen pollution in certain coastal areas, took effect on July 7, 2023. Includes a link to a Mass. DEP map of the properties impacted by the regulations.

The legal handbook for Massachusetts Boards of Health, 3rd ed., Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, chapter 5.

Listings of approved system inspectors and soil evaluators, NEIWPCC (New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission). Updated periodically.

Massachusetts Title 5 septic rules, by Rich Vetstein, 2013.
Includes helpful information on getting an inspection, what is a conditional pass, what happens if your system fails, fees, certification, costs, and time required to install a new system.

Title 5/Septic systems: financial assistance opportunities for system owners, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection.
Information on Massachusetts and federal loan programs as well as state tax credits.

Print sources

Environmental handbook for Massachusetts conservation commissioners, 9th ed., by Alexandra D. Dawson, Sally A. Zielinski, Mass. Association of Conservation Commissions, 2006, sec. 16.4.1.

Massachusetts environmental law, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, section 24.6.2(f) and 28.2.8 (On-site septic systems).

Real estate law with forms, (Mass. Practice, vol. 28A) annual, Thomson Reuters, sec. 28:28.

The Rivers Bill, Title 5 & more. MCLE, 1996.

Title 5 land use controls revisited. MCLE, 1995.

Title 5: new solutions to tough problems. Mass. Bar Association, 1996.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about Title 5 and septic systems

Last updated: February 9, 2024

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