The most common set of standards for surveys of commercial property changed in late February, and although the changes are subtle, they affect what can be shown on a land survey and how to place orders for land surveys. Those who own, plan to acquire, or lend against commercial real estate should be aware of the impact of the revised standards on survey orders and surveys themselves.

Jointly released by the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), the new 2016 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys change both the requirements of what surveyors must put on a survey and the optional menu of Table A items. In general, the new requirements shift the burden for obtaining information away from surveyors and relieve them of the obligation to interpret outside regulations.

Noteworthy changes fall into four key categories:

Information that must be provided by the customer

  • Title commitment and exception documents must be provided to the surveyor when the survey is ordered. Although the ALTA standards have always required this, the language has been clarified to more clearly direct customers to provide all title information before the surveyor begins work.
  • The record legal descriptions of any adjoining properties must be provided to the surveyor.
  • Surveyors are required to include a zoning note only if the information for the note is included in a zoning report or zoning letter provided to the surveyor. Because many jurisdictions provide paltry information in zoning letters, we recommend those who need zoning information on the survey order a zoning report.

Survey items that will no longer be included on surveys

  • Surveyors are no longer required to plot building setbacks when zoning information is ordered if the setback requires interpretation by the surveyor. (This most commonly arises when the zoning code establishes setbacks based on uses of property, number of units, or ratios.)
  • When wetlands information is ordered, surveyors are now required to show wetlands only if wetlands delineation markers have been placed by a qualified wetlands expert, in which case the survey is required to depict only the wetlands markers.
  • Surveyors are no longer required to monument appurtenant easements when requested. (This arose out of concerns about trespass in placing monuments on the properties of others.)
  • Previous Table A, Item 18 requiring the surveyor to depict and note observed evidence of site use as a solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill is no longer available. However, substantial areas of refuse constitute a significant feature under the new standards, and if Table A, Item 8 were ordered, the surveyor would be required to note that area of refuse as a significant feature.
  • The new standards have been clarified to state the amount of insurance carried by the surveyor shall not be stated on the face of the survey as had sometimes previously been requested of surveyors.

New requirements for survey items imposed on surveyors

  • Surveyors must now locate and disclose observable evidence of utilities via fieldwork as part of the minimum requirements for a survey. This no longer needs to be ordered as a separate Table A item. Instead, under revised Table A, Item 11, a customer can ask a surveyor to also obtain other evidence of utilities, including utility company plans or by contacting 811.
  • If the surveyor prepares a new legal description that is not an original description, the surveyor must include a note stating the new description describes the same real estate as the record description, or if it does not, explain how it differs.
  • The surveyor must now provide a summary of all easements burdening the property and include a statement indicating whether or not an easement is shown on the survey.

Changes to title and Table A item numbers

  • Surveys will now be titled “ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey” rather than the previous “ALTA/ACSM” designation. (The NSPS, the National Society of Professional Surveyors, is the successor organization to the ACSM, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.)
  • With the changes described above, several numbering changes have occurred in the list of Table A optional items that may be ordered. With the deletion of Item 18, Items 19-21 have been renumbered to 18-20. Additionally, with the removal of location of utilities by observed evidence from the optional Table A items, Item 11 no longer has 11(a) and 11(b) options.

The new standards took effect for all surveys ordered on or after February 23, 2016, so those reviewing surveys after that date should take note of the changes. In particular, those with standard lists of ordered or required Table A items will want to note the numbering changes.