When buying townhouses or new construction, a sneaky additional charge to look out for is the sewer capacity charge.
What is a sewer capacity charge?
Any connections added to the city sewer line after 1990 have to pay a fee associated with the increased capacity added to our aging sewer system. The most common example of this is when a single family home (that likely had one or two toilets) is torn down and replaced with a pod of townhouses. Most townhouses have 3 toilets, so if you build four townhouses where one single home used to be, you are increasing the number of toilets from 2 to 12! That is a huge additional “influx” of waste water into our sewer system.
Why Do We Have a Sewer Capacity Charge?
We have a rapidly growing population, and our infrastructure needs to be repaired and expanded to keep up with that growth. With more people (and more toilets), the City needs to expand and repair our existing sewer system. Seattle has decided that “growth pays for growth”, and that the new homeowners are responsible for paying for that growth as a part of the development process.
How Much Will This Cost Me?
You have two choices. You can pay the entire bill in one lump sum, or you can be billed every 3 months for the next 15 years. Most people opt to be billed every three months. That cost ranges (as of 2017) between $60 – $97 per month (again, billed in 3 month increments). To see the exact billing options, visit the King County Website.
Does This Apply to Only New Construction?
Sadly, it applies to anything that was built 1990 or later. If you decide to buy a townhouse that was built in 2007, it is same to assume that there is still 5 years left to pay off the total sewer capacity charge (since 10 of the 15 years will have been paid by the previous owner). In our competitive market, where sellers are in control, the sewer capacity charge is almost always passed on to the new buyer. The good news is that whatever the bill is set at will not go up. Rate increases (which happen annually), will only be applied to new construction. Once the sewer capacity charge is levied, it is set for the duration of the payments.
Although an extra $50- $100 per month likely won’t be the primary deciding factor in your home purchase, it is important to keep this potential expense in mind when looking for your new home.