The American Land Title Association (ALTA) and American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) have adopted new Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey (the “Standards”). On February 23, 2011, the new “2011 Standards” will become effective. The changes to the Standards mark the first major rewrite since they were initially adopted by ALTA and ACSM in 1962. While many of the revisions are limited to reorganization and wording, there are a few notable revisions and additions to the prior Standards.

  • The sections of the 2011 Standards now follow a different logical path and include a chronology of the client/surveyor procedures for procuring and providing an ALTA/ACSM survey.  
  • For the first time, the Standards define what constitutes an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey. The Standards spell out the particular requirements a surveyor must follow for on-site fieldwork, the preparation of a plat or map, and the completion of any optional information requested from Table A. In addition to the foregoing, an ALTA/ACSM survey must also include the certification specified in the 2011 Standards.  
  • There has been a noteworthy addition to the standard of care to be exercised by surveyors, with ALTA and ACSM recognizing that ”prudent surveyors” must abide by unwritten local, state and/or regional standards of care, not simply those described in the Standards themselves.  
  • The list of documents required to be provided to the surveyor has been expanded to include the most recent title commitment, the current record descriptions of adjoining properties, and any documents necessary to determine the relationship between senior and junior encumbrances where gaps and overlaps are identified.  
  • Two sections regarding easements affecting the surveyed property were added to the 2011 Standards, which clarify and delineate how surveyors must describe easements (e.g., showing the width and recording information and/or providing additional notes).  
  • Surveyors are provided with additional guidance on nonstandard types of properties, such as marinas, campgrounds, trailer parks and leased areas, since these properties may present issues beyond those normally encountered on a more common ALTA/ACSM survey.  

Table A, which sets forth optional survey responsibilities and specifications that may be required by clients, has been modified. As with the Standards in general, many of the changes involved rewording and clarification. More significant is the fact that some optional items under the prior Standards will be mandatory under the 2011 Standards. For example, all ALTA/ACSM surveys conducted after February 23, 2011, must include (i) a vicinity map showing the surveyed property in reference to nearby highways or major street intersections; (ii) visible evidence of physical access to abutting public ways; and (iii) evidence of access to and from waters adjoining the surveyed property, such as paths, slips, launches, piers and docks.

In addition, several new items have been added to Table A. For example, if requested, the surveyor must now (i) disclose the location of wetland areas; and/or (ii) show the location of improvements within any off-site easements benefiting the surveyed property. In addition, another new item attracting attention would allow the client to require that the surveyor obtain professional liability insurance for the survey project, to be effective throughout the contract term. One would expect that selecting this optional item could result in a significant increase in the price if a surveyor does not already carry this type of insurance. Many surveyors have objected to the addition of professional liability insurance as an ALTA/ACSM item. They have argued that insurance should be an issue between the surveyor and client for the contract, not part of the survey requirements.

While there are few significant changes in the 2011 Standards, those ordering an ALTA/ACSM survey should be aware of them, especially the increased optional requirements provided in Table A. Survey clients should not only find the additional details and qualifying sentences, along with the changes in wording, helpful to their understanding of the product they are obtaining, but also find that the resulting survey will permit them to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the property itself. Clients may also find it helpful to discuss these changes and their potential impact on title insurance policies with a member of our Real Estate Practice Group before ordering surveys subject to the 2011 Standards.