Realtors Stress Need for Home Inspections, Warn of Oil Tank Dangers

Following a series of high profile home oil tank leaks into local waterways in 2012, Victoria realtors are increasingly stressing the importance of education and inspections for prospective homeowners and those looking to sell their property.

Oil was historically a common heat source on Vancouver Island, and many homes in the Victoria area have oil tanks buried underground on the property. But if a buried oil tank leaks in B.C., homeowners are responsible for clean up costs. For a large spill, clean up costs can be tens of thousands of dollars or more, depending on the extent of environmental contamination.

Carol Crabb, former president of the Victoria Real Estate Board put it this way: “It’s all about due diligence, from both sides. Both buyers and sellers need to do their homework.”

Many homeowners are unaware they may have a buried oil tank and so won’t note it on the disclosure form they sign. That is one of the reasons why Crabb advised agents should get sellers to have their property checked, or swept as it’s commonly called, for buried oil tanks. Sellers can also review municipal records, if available.

“If the seller hasn’t done it,” Crabb said, “the buyer’s agent should be doing it. If they get a clean bill of health, then it’s all good. If not, then you are back at the negotiation stage, and that could mean reducing the purchase price to offset removal costs, the seller agrees to remove the tank before the sale, or the buyer and seller share the costs.”

Above ground tanks weren’t available until 1957, and weren’t widely used until the 1960s. That means many homes built prior to 1960 will have a buried oil tank on the property, even if they later converted to an above ground tank. As Crabb noted: “Just because there is an above ground oil tank, or an above ground tank was removed, doesn’t mean there isn’t one buried underground.”

Municipalities have different requirements for dealing with buried oil tanks. Some require removal while others will allow the tanks to stay on site, provided they are made inert. This process involves removing any leftover oil, cleaning the tank and then filling it with sand.

Rendering a tank inert can be fairly inexpensive, and Pacific Group Developments offers a free sweeping service to determine whether a property has a buried tank. Removing a tank and remediating the surrounding soil, if necessary, will cost more. But if a tank is leaking and isn’t dealt with, that leak can contaminate neighbour’s yards, perimeter drains and – as unfortunate homeowners discovered in 2011 – local waterways. That’s a costly scenario all homeowners and homebuyers will want to avoid.

When it comes to buried oil tanks, awareness is key. Buyers and sellers need to do their homework and be proactive. “It doesn’t cost anything to do a sweep or to check with the municipality, and it has to be dealt with at some point,” Crabb said.