Effective Feb. 23, 2021, the 2016 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys (the 2016 Standards), the standard by which ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys are conducted, will be replaced with the new 2021 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements (the 2021 Standards). Moving forward, all ALTA surveys conducted in connection with contracts that are executed on or after Feb. 23, 2021 must be performed under the new 2021 Standards, which can be found here.

In general, these standards have been revised to limit a surveyor’s liability and provide the surveyor greater clarity as to their role in meeting the requirements and performing various tasks in connection with each ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey. Overall, the 2021 Standards include eight sections that detail the minimum standard requirements for an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey and Table A which describes optional survey responsibilities and specifications that may be requested by the parties.

First, this article will highlight the primary changes in the minimum standard requirements and why the changes reflected in the 2021 Standards are important. Second, this article will discuss revisions of the optional Table A items that the parties may include in the survey. Table A has undergone significant revisions from the 2016 Standards, and each of those changes is further discussed below.

Minimum Standard Requirements

The most significant changes in the minimum standard requirements are in regard to the specific features that should be located during the surveyor’s fieldwork (Section 5) and the information and related notes the surveyor should include on the plat or map (Section 6).

Section 5 – Fieldwork: Section 5 has been revised to clarify that the precision standard with which certain features of the surveyed property are to be located, including evidence of easements and utilities, does not apply to the perimeter boundary of the surveyed property, which is separately addressed in Section 3.E.

Sections 5.E.ii., iii., and iv. have been revised to now include utility locate markings as evidence of easements and utilities, further providing that the surveyor shall include the source of the markings or a note if such information is unknown.

In connection with the above change, Section 5.E.iv. now provides that the surveyor shall locate any utility poles “on or within ten feet of the surveyed property.” This is a change from the 2016 Standards, which only required the surveyor to locate any utility poles within five feet of the surveyed property. Section 5.E.iv. also now expressly provides that the surveyor shall show the extent of any potentially encroaching utility pole crossmembers or overhangs, something that can often be overlooked by surveyors.

Section 6 – Plat or Map: The Section 6.C.ii. summary has been expanded to cover all rights of way, easements, and “other survey-related matters” that either burden or benefit the surveyed property. Additionally, Section 6.C.ii. now requires that the summary include whether the item lies within or crosses the surveyed property, a related note if the location is shown on the face of the plat or map, and a related note if it does not affect the surveyed property based on the description contained in the record document.

Section 6.C.iii. has been revised to require a note if there is no physical access to an abutting street, highway, or other public or private way.

Section 6.C.vi. now states non-platted adjoining land should be identified with the tax parcel number where available, in addition to recording data. This revision allows for more certainty in the identification of adjoining land.

Section 6.C.viii. is a new subsection requiring the surveyor to notify the insurer if a recorded easement not listed in the title evidence provided is discovered. The surveyor must show or explain it on the face of the plat or map with a note that the insurer has been advised, unless the insurer provides evidence of a release of the easement.

Table A – Optional Survey Responsibilities and Specifications

The most significant changes in the optional items of Table A are to the Note, the underground utilities item, and the removal of the wetlands item.

Note: New to the 2021 Standards, the surveyor and client may now negotiate the exact wording and fee for any of the optional items in Table A. Any additional items or changes to the wording must be explained. Creating a new item under Item 20, rather than modifying the language of Items 1-19, will help ensure that expectations between all parties involved are clear.

Item 11: The underground utilities item (Table A, Item 11) has been revised to provide two options as potential sources of evidence of underground utilities, which are in addition to the above ground evidence of utilities required under Section 5.E.iv. The two options are (a) plans and/or reports provided by the client and (b) markings coordinated by the surveyor pursuant to a private utility locate request. It should be noted that 811 or other similar utility locate requests may be ignored or incomplete in some jurisdictions. As a result, the most reliable options to locate underground utilities are Table A Items 11(a) and (b) in the 2021 Standards.

Removed Item 18: The wetlands item (2016 Standards, Table A, Item 18) has been completely removed in the 2021 Standards. This item only applied if a wetlands specialist conducted a field delineation of wetlands. The surveyor would locate delineation markers and show them on the face of the plat or map. If this item is needed for a particular survey, it can be negotiated and added in the blank Item 20.

Item 18: The offsite matters item (Table A, Item 18) has been revised to clarify language regarding the inclusion of plottable offsite easements or servitudes as part of the survey. Sections 5 and 6 of the minimum standards include marking only the boundaries of these items. Selecting the offsite matters item will result in nearly a full survey of the easement or servitude, thus potentially adding significant cost and time to the survey.

Conclusion

This article sets forth the most critical changes shown in the 2021 Standards, but there are a number of minor changes from the 2016 Standards that are not outlined above. All of the changes in the 2021 Standards can be found in the comprehensive red-lined version of the 2021 Standards found here.