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March 23, 2016

Best Practices: New Minimum Standard Requirements for ALTA Surveys

by Victor A. Diaz

Late last year, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), successor to the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), adopted new Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys. The new standards went into effect February 23, 2016. There are some fairly substantial changes that deserve careful examination. This article addresses only a few of the more salient changes. References are to the new minimum standards.

An ALTA Land Title Survey must meet specific standards that apply to all ALTA surveys, and must show or address specific items on the plat or drawing of the survey. In addition to the minimum standards, the parties can negotiate optional, additional matters to be included on the survey. These optional requirements are set forth in Table A – known as the “Table A” items. Requests for an ALTA survey should specify that an “ALTA/NSPS LAND TITLE SURVEY” is required and which optional items listed in Table A, if any, are to be incorporated.

The new changes impact both the overall minimum standards as well as the list of available optional requirements in Table A. Some former, optional Table A items are now part of the minimum standards and some Table A items have been re-written or eliminated. For example, the new standards require the surveyor to include observed evidence of utilities, not just when it is evidenced by an easement, an item that used to be optional in Table A. Section 5.E.iv. Additionally, under the new standards the surveyor must explain by way of a note any differences between a new legal description prepared by the surveyor and the legal description of record. The note must make clear whether the new legal description describes the same land, and, if not, how it is different. Section 6.B.ii. Finally, the new standards also require the surveyor to provide a summary of the rights of way, easements and servitudes burdening the property, whether or not they are shown on the survey. Section 6.C.ii.

The bulk of the changes to “Table A” include added responsibilities for the client to provide instruction, information or documentation and for the surveyor to depict additional information or in a different manner. For instance:

  • Item 6(a) dealing with current zoning classification now requires that a zoning letter or report containing any information desired on the survey be provided to the surveyor by the client. With this information, the surveyor can include the current zoning classification, setback requirements, the height and floor space are restrictions, and parking requirements. If the setbacks requirements provided to the surveyor require interpretation, the surveyor will not depict them. See Item 6(b).
  • Item 8 governing substantial features observed such as billboards, signs, parking lots, etc., now specifically require that “substantial areas of refuse” be located.
  • Item 11 now deals practically, exclusively with underground utilities, as observed utilities have been moved and now form part of the minimum standards. This optional requirement now makes the surveyor responsible for trying to obtain utility plans and making utility-locate requests. And, specifically requires the surveyor to make a note to the client, insurer and lender, as to what additional or more detailed information is required, including excavation and/or obtaining a private company to conduct the utility located, in order to address underground utilities effectively.
  • Old Item 18 covering environmental observations such as solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill on the property has been eliminated altogether leaving this responsibility to environmental experts and not the surveyor.

As we have recommended in past newsletter articles, when a survey is ordered in connection with a project financed with an SBA loan, particularly ground-up construction projects, it is in the best interests of the lender to take the time to consider the benefits an ALTA survey, and which Table A items it would like to see on the survey and request that those items be included on the survey.

For more information regarding ALTA surveys, please contact Victor at vdiaz@starfieldsmith.com or 407-667-8811.