Can the homeseller refuse testing of an underground oil tank before closing?

Ray Wilson's picture
House underground oil tank

The seller of the home that I inspected last week refused to allow a test of an underground oil tank when the findings were discussed at the end of an inspection in Westbury last week.

Any qualified home inspector that sees signs of an underground oil tank (such as the oil lines protruding from the foundation - see picture) will likely recommended to his client that the tank be tested for integrity. The home seller may refuse to let the buyers' tank contractor perform any testing, but there are no real estate attorneys that I know of that will let their buyer purchase a property with an underground oil tank without knowing if a leak exists.

You will never know if a leak from a tank exists unless one of two testing methods is performed:

  • Vacuum Testing
  • Soil Sampling

Vacuum testing of oil tanks came about as a means of testing a tank without pressurizing the tank, which was done in the past and could cause a rupture and/or leak if a weak spot was present. Nowadays, vacuum testing is done to determine if a tank is compromised, and this does not harm the tank.

More common on Long Island is soil sampling, in which a long coring tool is forced into the soil around the tank below grade, and the soil is then tested for oil contamination.

The fees vary quite a bit depending on the company you hire, the difficulty of tank access, and other factors such as distance from the company to the jobsite. What ever the fee, this is something that really needs to be done.

A friends' mother had an underground oil tank leak in Farmingdale NY, and the clean up costs topped $32,000! Yikes!

The seller can keep refusing to have their property tested, but as long as the next buyer hires a qualified inspector, the results are likely going to be the same. No one wants to clean up someone else's mess, and the seller should take responsibility for their property.

Ray Wilson is a Home Inspector, covering all of Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk), the 5 boroughs of NYC and now upstate NY. For any home inspection related questions he can be reached at Meticulous Home Inspection Corporation.

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