By: Lance T. Denha, Esq.
Although a land survey may seem tedious and unnecessary it may prove to be money well spent in order to save confusion or legal troubles later. A land surveyor will research the documents available about your land, including titles and previous surveys. Then, they will physically measure the property, and check these dimensions against the previous records to find any discrepancies. Land surveyors can also use electronic equipment, GPS positioning, or other devices to determine the boundaries of your property.
You should always consider a new land survey if you are buying a piece of real estate. Even though many mortgage companies or title insurance companies do not require one, it is still smart to have a survey done. You should be aware of any boundary discrepancies that could affect the value of your property before purchasing it. Any disputes about the boundaries of the property should be settled before you agree to purchase it, or you can be in for a legal headache later.
You may also want to consider having a land survey done if you are planning to sell your property. It is especially important in areas where road access is questionable. Determining the status of roads onto your land can help your realtor determine how marketable the property is. Shoreline footage and acreage are two more selling points that can be measured by a land survey. Some buyers might put in an offer that is contingent on a survey; if you have the survey done ahead of time, you can save time and increase the chances of selling your property quickly.
Before building a shed, fence, or other structure on the edges of your land, consider having a land surveyor mark the exact edges of your property. That way, you can be assured that you are not building on your neighbor’s land, and you can assure yourself that you are not fencing out any land that is actually yours. This is especially important when building a house or other large, permanent structure. There are many things to keep in mind when situating such a building, including easements, setbacks, and other requirements that will be marked on your new land survey. Do not let your contractor or builder determine where to place this structure, as they will probably not be any more aware of your boundaries than you are.
Conversely, if your neighbor is building such a structure and you believe it to be on your property, have a land survey completed. This is the first step towards resolving the problem and ensuring that your land remains yours to use.
The following are some common reasons property owners hire a surveyor.
Boundary Lines. One of the most common reasons a landowner seeks the assistance of a surveyor, the location of boundary lines and other lines of occupancy or possession is a critical piece of information to have before you build a fence, add a sunroom or pave your driveway. All too often the survey shows that you and your neighbors were operating under the wrong assumption about the placement of the boundary line between your properties. Before you have that fence erected, you want to make sure it will be built on your property, not your neighbor’s. The boundary line certification will also tell you whether the legal description of your property is accurate.
Gores, Overlaps, and Gaps. Part of the boundary line certification, most surveys include a statement that unless the surveys says otherwise, there are no discrepancies between the boundary lines of your property and the adjoining property. This is especially pertinent if your property is continuous with alleys, roads, highways, or streets.
Rights-Of-Way, Easements, and Abandoned Roads. A survey will show all the conditions imposed by law that are reflected in your property’s title report and other agreements. If your property blocks your neighbor’s access to the road, for example, there may be an old agreement that gives your neighbor the right to walk across your yard to the street.
Ponds, Rivers, Creeks, Streams, Wells, and Lakes. The typical survey reports visible or surface waters only. Underground waters and wetlands are topics that are better covered by other professional inspections.
Joint Driveways, Party Walls, Rights-Of-Support, Encroachments, Overhangs, Or Projections. Unbeknownst to you or your next-door neighbor, you may have an obligation by law to support your neighbor’s driveway by maintaining your own.
Existing Improvements. The surveyor will usually certify that the buildings and other improvements, alterations, and repairs to your property that exist at the time of the survey are not in violation of laws or other restrictions such as those regarding height, bulk, dimension, frontage, building lines, set-backs, and parking. Of course, the surveyor will also tell you if your latest improvement is in violation of a local ordinance or other law, which will put you on notice that a change is in order.
Water, Electric, Gas, Telephone And Telegraph Pipes, Drains, Wires, Cables, Vaults, Manhole Covers, Catchbasins, Lines, And Poles. Poles and above-ground wires are obvious, but the surveyor can usually report on the existence of underground cables and drains, as well, if the information is provided to him or her by your utility companies and municipality. Such information is important for two reasons. A utility company may have the right to use a portion of your property for upkeep of utility lines, and may have a say in how tall you let your trees grow, for instance. Also, knowing the exact location of underground utilities is critical before any excavation or construction begins.
Access, Ingress and Egress. Your survey should state, at a minimum, whether there is physical vehicular ingress and egress to an open public street. It may also specify the adequacy of access for a particular purpose, such as delivery trucks, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, and driveways for tenants.
Zoning Classification. You probably know whether your property is zoned for residential or light industrial use. But you may be surprised to discover that your zoning classification puts specific restrictions on how you use your property. This part of the survey simply reports your zoning jurisdiction and classification. Once you have your completed and certified survey, you may want to consult an attorney about whether you are using your property in conformance with zoning ordinances or for other advice about the legal ramifications of your property survey.