How do you know if you need a property survey? Do you think you know everything there is to know about the legal description of your property? If you had to, could you calculate precisely where your property begins and ends? And do you know exactly who has a right to come onto your property and why?
If you do, you are one-step ahead of most property owners. Most people seek out the expertise of a professional surveyor to settle common property description issues before they become problems. And in addition to a professional property survey, many people seek other specific certifications such as an environmental certification, a zoning opinion letter, or a flood plain classification from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 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 aboveground wires are obvious, but the surveyor can usually report on the existence of underground cables and drains, as well, if your utility companies and municipality provide the information to him or her. 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.
- Cemeteries. It is unlikely that unbeknownst to you there is an old family burial ground in your back yard. The survey will show the exact location of any old cemeteries on your plat.
- Access, Ingress & 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.