What really is an ALTA survey and did you know its changing?

Most of you have heard the term – ALTA survey – and many of you know what one is and why it is needed.  But did you also know that there are ALTA survey Standards and that they are being revised effective February 23, 2011?  For those of you that want to better understand this type of survey, it would be best to start with the basics.

American Land Title Association (ALTA) is a trade association and US voice of the abstract and title insurance industry.  The ALTA survey is done to standards dually adopted by the ALTA and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).  Interestingly, ACSM is not just one organization but it is comprised of several autonomous professional groups such as the National Society of Professional Surveyors, Inc. (NSPS).

When it comes to preparing an ALTA survey, the surveyor is guided by ALTA/ACSM standards that meet the needs of property buyer and requirements of the title insurer (“title company”).  The goal is to promote nationwide uniformity.  The ALTA survey is typically prepared for commercial properties and shows property lines, improvements, rights-of-way, easements (e.g. public utilities, roadway access), and other elements that impact the ownership of land (e.g. fences, trails, roads, utility lines).

If a buyer requires an extended coverage title policy, then they must provide the title company with an ALTA survey so that the insurer can remove the standard exceptions, including (i) easements, or claims of easements, not shown by the public record; and (ii) overlaps, encroachments, boundary disputes, or other matters disclosed by an accurate inspection and survey.

The ALTA survey standards have not changed since 2005, but there will be some notable changes going into effect February 23, 2011.  According to the ACSM website (www.acsm.net), the new 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys (8th Version) will supersede all previous versions.  Some of the critical changes include:

  • The “Normal Standard of Care” – Surveyors should recognize that there may be unwritten local, state, and/or regional standards of care defined by the practice of the ‘prudent surveyor’ in those locales.
  • Boundary Resolution – The boundary lines and corners of any property being surveyed as part of an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey shall be established and/or retraced in accordance with appropriate boundary law principles governed by the set of facts and evidence found in the course of performing the research and survey.
  • Easements, Servitudes, Rights of Way, Access and Record Documents – i. The width and recording information of all plottable rights of way, easements and servitudes burdening and benefitting the property surveyed, as evidenced by Record Documents that have been provided to the surveyor, and ii. A note regarding any right of way, easement or servitude evidenced by a Record Document that has been provided to the surveyor (a) the location of which cannot be determined from the record document, or (b) of which there was no observed evidence at the time of the survey, or (c) that is a blanket easement, or (d) that is not on, or does not touch, the surveyed property, or (e) that limits access to an otherwise abutting right of way, or (f) in cased where the surveyed property is composed of multiple parcels, which of such parcels the various rights of way, easements, and servitudes cross.
  • Table A, Optional Item 6 – Current zoning classification and building setback requirements, height and floor space area restrictions as set forth in that classification shall be provided by the insurer (i.e., Title Company).
  • Table A, Optional Item 21 – Professional Liability Insurance to be obtained and carried by the surveyor throughout the contract term.

If you have any further questions or need an ALTA survey, then please feel free to email or give me a call.

John M. Cruikshank, PE


310-241-6550 (x228)


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