ALTA Surveys: Variations in Easement Surveys

With the adoption of the 2016 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, surveyors must now provide an organized summary of notes of the easements burdening a property. The summary is based upon documentation provided to the surveyor (i.e. Title Commitments and underlying documents) or otherwise obtained per Section 4 of the standards. This addition was made to provide benefit to the reviewer and is addressed on the NV5/Bock & Clark survey under the heading “ITEMS CORRESPONDING TO SCHEDULE B-II”.

Seven Examples of Record Information

As defined in Section 6.C.ii of the standards, the surveyor’s note shall include the record information for each item, a statement indicating whether or not the item is shown on the plat or map AND a relating note as defined in the seven examples cited below.

  1. The location cannot be determined from the record document
  2. There was no observed evidence at the time of the fieldwork
  3. It’s a blanket easement
  4. It’s not on, or does not touch, the surveyed property
  5. It limits access to an otherwise abutting right of way
  6. The documents are illegible
  7. The surveyor has information indicating that it may have been released or otherwise terminated

Easement Ambiguity

Often, parties reviewing the survey are unclear as to why a surveyor cannot be more specific regarding matters related to the easement, particularly when the surveyor cannot determine the location of an easement and is unable to show the limits on the plat or map. The surveyors do their best to determine locations, and property boundary lines may be muddied. Unfortunately, if an easement description is ambiguous, illegible, or not fully recorded there is very little the surveyor can do but to state the reason for lack of specificity.

A description may be ambiguous if the surveyor cannot determine a beginning point or be simply described, for example, as “a 20’ strip crossing the property”. Documents that were recorded in the late 1800s or early 1900s may have been handwritten and impossible to transcribe. Records from the mid-1900s may have been microfilmed and are currently so faded that they cannot be read. It is not that uncommon for an easement to be recorded referring to an “Exhibit” for a drawing or legal description where the exhibit was not attached to the recording.

Easement Variations

Another statement that a surveyor may provide is that the easement is a blanket easement. This would indicate that the provided document called for the easement right to be granted over the entire property, not a defined portion. Again, the surveyor cannot do more than to state it as such. The surveyor does have responsibilities in Sections 5.E. of the standards to report evidence of easements or servitudes observed in the process of conducting the survey to property owners regardless of whether the surveyor was able to ascertain the limits of an easement that may burden the property.

A surveyor may note that an easement item is not on or does not touch the surveyed property. This indicates that the surveyor reviewed the description of the easement and determined that the item is not located on the property surveyed. This may have occurred because at the time the easement was granted, the surveyed property was part of a larger parent tract and the easement is in fact located on another portion of the parent tract and not the surveyed portion that was subdivided. In cases such as this, the title insurer may elect to delete this item from their Schedule B-II listing based upon the surveyor’s statement.