Changes to 2016 ALTA Survey Standards – What You Need to Know

by Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP
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The American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) recently adopted revised Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys. The new standards became effective February 23, 2016, and supersede the existing standards introduced in 2011. A survey performed in accordance with these standards is typically referred to as an “ALTA Survey.”1

In addition to some technical revisions, the theme of the new revisions is to encourage the use of specialized consultants, such as zoning and wetlands specialists, and then permit or require the surveyor to plot the conclusions of these specialists on the survey plat.

Highlighted below are five of the key changes made to the 2016 Standards and the (optional) Table A requirements. 

Zoning – Table A; Item 6

The key change to Item 6 is that the surveyor is only required to include zoning information provided by the client in the form of a zoning report or a zoning letter. Surveyors should not be in the business of doing zoning research, and this change makes that clear.

Item 6(a) says the surveyor will only have to set forth the zoning classification, setback requirements, and/or height and floor space area restrictions if this information is contained in a zoning report or a zoning letter provided to the surveyor by the client. The surveyor is also required to detail the parking requirements set forth in the zoning report or zoning letter.

Item 6(b) says the surveyor must graphically depict the setback requirements if the setback requirements are set forth in a zoning report or a zoning letter, and the requirements do not require an interpretation by the surveyor.

Parking – Table A; Item 9

The key change to Item 9 is that the surveyor is only required to show striping for clearly identifiable parking spaces located on surface parking areas. The surveyor is not required to show striping for parking structures. However, the number and type of spaces in parking structures, surface parking areas and lots still need to be shown.

Utilities – Section 5.E.iv and Table A; Item 11

No longer only an optional Table A item, the 2016 standards now require the surveyor to depict any evidence of above- or below-ground utilities. Examples of such evidence include pipeline markers, manholes, valves, meters, transformers, pedestals, clean-outs, utility poles, overhead lines and guy wires.

Table A Item 11 now provides the option to further require the surveyor to show (i) evidence from any plans requested by the surveyor and obtained from utility companies, or provided by the client (with reference to the sources of information), and (ii) markings requested by the surveyor pursuant to an 811 utility location or similar request. And, because requests to locate utilities often do not yield any results, Item 11 now permits the surveyor to add a note stating how the jurisdiction’s failure to respond impacted the surveyor’s assessment.

Wetlands – Table A; Item 19

New Table A Item 19 (renumbered from Item 18 in the 2011 Standards) clarifies that the surveyor must depict the location of any delineation markers observed at the property only if a field delineation of wetlands has been conducted by a qualified specialist hired by the client. If no markers are observed, the surveyor should state that fact on the survey. Like the 2016 change for zoning matters, this change encourages parties to engage specialized consultants.

Legal Descriptions – Section 6.B.ii

Section 6.B.ii of the 2016 Standards emphasizes that the surveyor should avoid preparing a new legal description of the property unless (i) no record legal description is available (generally because the property being surveyed is part of a larger tract), or (ii) deemed necessary or appropriate by the surveyor or the title insurer. If a new legal description is prepared, the surveyor should now include a note on the survey stating (A) that the new legal description describes the same real estate as the record description or, if it does not, (B) how the new legal description differs from the record description.
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1 Note that the 2016 standards refer to “ALTA/NSPS,” as opposed to “ALTA/ACSM.”  The National Society of Professional Surveyors, Inc. (NSPS) is the legal successor organization to the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), and the ACSM has turned over responsibility for the survey standards to the NSPS. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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