Unlike most homes today that are heated by natural gas, oil furnace heating was a common standard for many homes built before 1957 in the Greater Vancouver Area. Unfortunately today, many of these old tanks still remain buried in backyards and have resulted in substantial property damage—a major headache for homeowners and potential homebuyers.
The City of Vancouver has been dealing with the issue of backyard underground oil tanks for some time now. In the late 50’s, when natural gas became available for Vancouver residents, many old oil storage tanks were capped and filled with sand. Over time, some of these buried tanks have begun to rust and corrode, allowing oil to seep into surrounding soils and waterways.
Costs can be substantial when dealing with rusted-out oil tanks. A North Vancouver resident recently discovered that her property had been contaminated from an abandoned oil tank. The homeowner was forced to pay $85,000 to decontaminate her property and have the tank removed. Another homeowner whose home is on a creek has lost everything because of remediation costs that could reach $1 million dollars.
The City of Vancouver requires all out-of-service underground oil tanks be removed and contaminated soil be replaced with clean fill. Homeowners wishing to sell their property must disclose to the buyer if a tank exists on the property. Absent a contractual agreement to the contrary (and it had better be well written), the seller is responsible for all costs in having the storage tank removed. If undisclosed, the seller can face substantial legal liability.
If you are looking to sell or purchase a house in Vancouver and it is not known if a tank exists on the property, a few clues to look for is a filler cap in the yard or a vent/pipe adjacent to the house or near the furnace. Absence of these clues do not mean there is no tank. It is also wise to have the property inspected by an underground oil storage tank inspector. Soil can also be tested for contaminants if a tank is suspected on the property. It is important to talk to a real estate agent who knows about current city regulations and the history of houses in the area. …and if necessary who can draft a clause to protect you from liability related to a tank. In my environmental law practice, I frequently advised clients on contamination issues and avoiding potential liability.
For information on underground oil tank removal or abandonment permits visit: http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/tank-removal-or-abandonment-permit.aspx