LAND & PROPERTYBuilding & ZoningSeptic SystemsSeptic Ordinance FAQs   

Subsurface Sewage Treatment System Ordinance no. 61 

The St. Louis County Board has adopted new rules regarding septic systems. The new ordinance removes provisions better addressed in the County’s zoning ordinances, broadens the use of holding tanks, modifies point of sale program requirements, and incorporates local system design considerations.

In developing the new ordinance, county staff spent considerable time working with state-licensed septic designers, inspectors, installers and maintainers, and other interested parties to update the ordinance to reflect changes in state law while incorporating local considerations.

The Environmental Services Department is committed to working with property owners to answer questions about septic systems and the new ordinance. You may read the full ordinance here

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding escrow requirements.

Question: When is an escrow agreement required?
Answer: Beginning June 30, 2014, an escrow agreement will be required:

  • when a septic system fails a point of sale inspection and the system upgrade will occur after the property transaction, or; 
  • for homes sold when conditions do not allow for system inspections, for instance during some winter months. Sellers are encouraged to have their systems inspected in a timely fashion to avoid winter escrow issues.

An escrow requirement ensures that funding is available to make the needed upgrades. The time of property transfer is the most reasonable time to establish this funding. Waiting until a later time to upgrade may result in funding not being available due to other circumstances. 

Most systems are in compliance and will not require an escrow account. Any system built and approved within the last 10 years does not require an inspection or escrow account.

Question: How much money must be set aside in escrow?
Answer: 100% of the estimated cost to repair/upgrade the system is required. 

Question: Will the escrow requirement hurt homeowners?
Answer: It will lead to the upgrade of more systems, benefiting property owners and the county as a whole. The escrow requirement ensures that funding is available for system upgrades, resulting in properties having compliant systems and improving the quality and the value of the property.
Question: How long does the buyer have to upgrade a failing system?
Answer: To provide flexibility, if escrow is required, St. Louis County allows buyers up to two years to complete required upgrades for non-compliant systems, and ten months to upgrade systems determined to be  imminent threats to public health. However, we encourage residents to make needed upgrades as soon as practical.

Question: Why can’t the county – through enforcement – make homeowners comply with septic requirements?

Answer: Enforcement is a reactive rather than proactive approach, and is a costly option that would tie up staffing resources from Environmental Services, the Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office. This would be an added cost for tax payers – many of whom either have already paid for upgrades to ensure their septic system is compliant, or live in areas where they pay for sewer service.
Over 22 percent of failing systems identified through the Point of Sale Program since 2001 have not been upgraded, with the percentage increasing in recent years. This is a significant number and poses public health and environmental concerns.

Question: What assistance is available if I can't afford to fix my system?
Answer: Several assistance programs are available. You can read more about them here.

Question: Who can I contact if I have additional questions?
Answer: Please call the Environmental Services Department at (218) 749-0625 or 1-800-450-9278, or e-mail:

St. Louis County Environmental Services Department
307 First St. S., Ste. 115
Virginia, Minnesota  55792

Government Services Center
320 W 2nd St., Ste. 301
Duluth, MN 55802