what is an alta survey?

The ALTA Survey is a detailed map of the land showing all existing improvements of the property, utilities, and significant visual on-site observations within the insured property.

An ALTA survey is really a combination of many other land surveys including: boundary survey, title survey, as-built survey, and a location survey.

A through title search is completed by a title company which results in a title commitment report being provided to the surveyor by the client.

Then, a Professional Land Surveyor takes that title commitment, performs a field survey to locate the required items and optional Table A items selected by the client, and generates a land survey plat detailing all title and field findings.

History of ALTA Surveys as described on the ALTA Website

In 1962, The American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the former American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) came together for the first time to develop a survey product that would meet the needs of the title insurer to delete the standard survey exceptions from their title policy.

The product that was developed was defined as an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey, and the land surveyor’s responsibilities were outlined in the “Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys.”

Since then, the requirements have been revised approximately eleven times, to the most current requirements that took effect on February 23, 2016.

Now retitled the ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey, the 2016 Standards are the most current

Purpose of an ALTA Survey

The purpose of an ALTA/ACSM Land Survey is to provide adequate assurances to the bank/lender that a property has clear, marketable title. The title examiner guarantees that the property is free from recorded encumbrances and the land surveyor guarantees that the property is free from defects that cannot be disclosed from a records search – i.e. the surveyor is the eyes and ears of the lender to search for any visible defects.  As such, there are matters of land title as well as matters of land survey. These two fields of practice are distinct from other another. But the title examiner and land surveyor must both do their part in order to complete an accurate ALTA/ACSM Land Survey.

Professional Land Surveyor Standards of Care When Conducing ALTA Surveys

Robillard states that a “surveyor’s work will be judged on what was contracted for or on the written standards in the local surveying community.”

Translation: Professional Land Surveyors must follow the “rules” that govern ALTA/NSPS Land Surveys. These Rules include The 2016 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys (the “2016 Standards”) and also the PLS Acts & Rules within the state where the ALTA survey is being conducted. If the Standards and Acts/Rules conflict with one another, the more stringent requirement trumps the other.

Other secondary sources that govern “how” ALTA/NSPS Surveys are conducted include surveying textbooks, court cases in your home state and nationwide, and finally lectures given at surveying conferences. These secondary sources help to understand and clarify the 2016 ALTA/NSPS Standards and State Surveying Acts/Rules. Ignorance is no excuse: Professional Land Surveyors must be familiar with these secondary sources to protect their practice and deliver great survey plats to their clients

required items on an alta/nsps land survey

As discussed above, the 2016 Standards is the primary document that governs how these types of surveys are conducted.

The Required Items that must be included are listed through the 2016 Standards. These items include:

    • Monuments
    • Rights of Way Access
    • Lines of Possession, and Improvements along the Boundaries
    • Buildings
    • Easements and Servitudes
    • Cemeteries
    • Water Features

Optional items on an alta/nsps land survey

The Optional Items that the  client may elect to include (for an extra fee) are located in Table A of the 2016 Standards. These items include:

    • Monuments placed or referenced at property boundary corners
    • Addresses
    • Flood zone classification
    • Gross land area
    •  Vertical relief, contour interval, datum, and originating benchmark
    • Current zoning classification as provided by insurer
    • Current zoning classification, building setback requirements, height and floor space area restrictions as provided by the insurer
    • Exterior dimensions of buildings
    • Determination of whether walls are plumb
    • Utilities: observed evidence
    • Utilities: observed evidence and evidence from plans, markings by utility companies, and other sources
    • Government agency requirements
    • Names of adjoining owners of platted lands
    • Distance to nearest intersecting street
    • Rectified orthography, photogrammetric mapping, airborne/mobile laser scanning, etc.
    • Evidence of earth moving work, building construction, or building additions
    • Proposed changes in street right of way lines
    • Evidence of solid waste dump, sump, or landfill
    • Location of wetland areas
    • Improvements within offsite easements or servitudes benefiting surveyed property
    • Monuments placed (or referenced) for offsite easements or servitudes benefiting surveyed property
    • Surveyor obtains professional liability insurance in amount of $___________ for contract term.
    • Other negotiated items

Land surveyor expert witness for alta/nsps land surveys

In addition to conducting land surveys for clients in his daily practice and teaching the next generation of Professional Land Surveyors in University, Test Prep, and CEU courses, Dr. Tony Nettleman regularly testifies as an expert witness in matters of boundary, title, easement, and ALTA/NSPS land surveys.

Dr. Nettleman’s unmatched education as a PhD Land Surveyor and Real Property Attorney matched with his two decades of experience allow him to solve complex ALTA/NSPS disputes, explain to courts and juries the standards that Professional Land Surveyors must follow when conducting ALTA/ NSPS surveys in an easy-to-understand manner, and most importantly, determine if a Professional Land Surveyor has met the duty required by the ALTA/NSPS and State Acts/Rules standards.

Dr. Nettleman can be contacted below.

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