Since we’re now 5 years from the 2016 ALTA/NSPS Survey standards it should come as no surprise that these standards are being updated. The new Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys is version 2021 with an effective date of February 23, 2021. That’s only a little more than a month away as I write this post.
Purpose of the ALTA Survey Standards
If you’re reading this, you probably know what these standards are. I’ll give a brief explanation. These national survey standards are developed and revised on a regular basis by both the Title industry (the American Land Title Association) and the Surveying industry (the National Society of Professional Surveyors.) These standards are used for most commercial real estate closings. This provides information to reduce the Exceptions on the Title Policy. Also the survey ensures there are no problems that might arise regarding the survey related elements of a parcel of land.
Some Highlighted Changes in the 2021 ALTA Survey Standards
Section 4: Surveyors may need to do title research if the Title Company is unwilling to do so. In my opinion, this should be discussed with the client (and included in your contract) each time to ensure that this research is provided to you. If they won’t, you should send your client to a local Abstractor to get this done.
Section 5.B.ii.: Sidewalks and trails are considered a “travelled way” for pedestrians and should be located on surveys. These are further defined in Section 5.B.iv.
Section 6.B.i.a.: The record description must appear on the survey drawing. If this is different from the Title Commitment description, this should be discussed with the Title company to determine their source. You may need to show both legal descriptions on the survey. I have done this consistently because usually my As Surveyed legal description will differ from the record or Title Commitment description. Having two legal descriptions might also being up additional needed notes to explain the differences.
Section 6.B.vi.: This calls for a caveat to be noted regarding the nature of water boundaries. An example note is given by the NSPS committee as:
”Where the property being surveyed includes a water boundary, the parties relying on the survey should be aware that, (1) laws regarding the delineation between the ownership of the bed of navigable waters and the upland owner differ from state to state, (2) water boundaries are typically subject to change due to natural causes, and (3) as a result, the boundary shown hereon may or may not represent the actual location of the limit of title. The [e.g., bank, edge of water, high-water mark, ordinary high-water mark, low-water mark, ordinary low-water mark, center of stream] shown hereon [was/were] located on [Date].”
Section 6.B.vii.: This section requires that the surveyor disclose any gaps or overlaps with adjoiners or between interior parcels where the property being surveyed consists of multiple parcels. This can be done not only with notes on the graphic portion of the plat/map, but also with textual notes drawing attention to the condition(s).
Section 6.C.i.: Surveyors should note if an easement that BENEFITS the parcel is shown as an Exception (a burden) in Schedule B2 instead of in Schedule A. Schedule A is for easements that benefit the property. Schedule B2 is for easements that burden the property.
Section 6.C.ii.: As all surveyors know, the Title Commitment is the most important document needed to complete an ALTA survey. This section says that all easements and other survey related matters must be shown. You also know that sometimes the Title Commitment gets updated after you begin the work, and sometimes even after you complete it. Multiple revisions to the title commitment will also mean multiple revisions to the survey. This should be discussed in the contract to limit the additional time that may be needed. This burden should not just fall on the surveyor to bear.
Section 7: Certifications are required to the named insured, the lender, and the insurer. OTHER names or entities added to the certificate should be negotiated between the client and surveyor. Some additional named parties may add more risk to the surveyor.
Table A: The introduction paragraph for the Table A Items makes it clear that these items are negotiable, including the wording of the items. Of course, so is the fee for producing these extra items.
Table A, Item 11: Some have seen the need to add a note clarifying paint markings that might be found but the source isn’t known. Of course, utility location should always be repeated before any digging is undertaken.
Wetlands language removed from the Survey Standards
Wetlands: You should note that this Table A Item has been removed. The word “wetland(s)” is also absent from the Standards Documents. Surveyors were never the expert needed for this work. We only surveyed the LOCATION AFTER a wetland expert had delineated the limits. Other professionals like environmental scientists, archeologists, or structural engineers might be needed in some cases. The surveyor should recommend these experts be sought by his client if needed.
Local Survey Standards vs ALTA/NSPS standards
I want to also point out and restate Section 3.B. which reminds us that many “states and some local jurisdictions have adopted statutes, administrative rules, and/or ordinances that set out standards regulating
the practice of surveying within their jurisdictions.” When these conflicts occur, the most stringent standard must be followed by the surveyor.
If you have any questions about the new or old standards, or if you have a project that you need help on, please call. I’m willing to help fellow surveyors who need to brush up on doing ALTA surveys, or clients who need the services of an ALTA surveyor.
J. Keith Maxwell, PE, PLS is a licensed surveyor in Alabama and an Engineer in 4 states. He has 30 years professional survey experience and has completed hundreds of ALTA surveys for all types of commercial properties. You can contact him through his website at ALTALandSurvey.com.