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Organizations Adopt New ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Survey Standards

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March/April 2000 - Volume 79, Number 2

by Mary Feindt, L.S. and Gary Kent, L.S.

In October, ALTA®, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM,) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors, Inc. (NSPS) adopted a new set of Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Surveys.

The new 1999 standards supersede the 1997 standards, and though effective upon ACSM’s adoption on October 20, 1999, they will probably not be widely recognized for a few months due to the varying publication schedules of the various society, industry, and professional publications.

Initial Meeting in Chicago

Representatives of ALTA® and the ALTA® Lender’s Counsel met with members of the NSPS/ALTA® Standards Committee last July to discuss changes to the Standards which were last revised in 1997.

The group considered a laundry list of suggestions that were brought to the table by virtue of input from a variety of persons across the country. Some of the suggestions were specific, others became obvious because of the continual need to clarify or qualify certain sections of the standards.

In a spirit of cooperation grounded in a mutual respect and the need for clear, comprehensive standards, the group worked together to address a number of concerns.

Classes of Surveys Discarded

Most significantly, the concept of various "Classes" of ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Surveys has been eliminated. This results in a number of related changes throughout the document and in the accompanying Accuracy Standards.

Due to the nature of an ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Survey and its pivotal role in the commercial real estate conveyance, the idea of standards which allow low accuracy measurements in certain situations has been deemed unacceptable. In addition, as any Surveyor knows, an Urban Survey is typically ordered virtually 100 percent of the time regardless of the anticipated use of the property.

Changes to the Content Standards

Here are the specific changes to the Standards. A full copy of the new Standards follows this article.

Paragraph 1: The wording of the second sentence was clarified. Although a title company may order the survey, it typically is not responsible for paying for the survey. The Surveyor should establish a contractual arrangement with the appropriate party.

Paragraph 1: The wording of the third sentence addresses the elimination of Classes of Surveys.

Paragraph 3: The new wording addresses the elimination of Classes of Surveys, revises the name of the Accuracy Standards document and adds NSPS as a party to those Accuracy Standards.

Paragraph 5d: New wording eliminates the need to research individual deeds for lots in an adjoining platted subdivision.

Paragraph 5d: New wording clarifies that questions of contiguity, gores and overlaps are related to both the interior lines of multi-parceled properties being surveyed and to the adjoiners to the surveyed parcel(s). The new clause also acknowledges that additional survey fieldwork required to make such a determination for adjoiners, but which would not otherwise be required for execution of the survey, is not required.

Paragraph 5i: New wording clarifies that notations regarding encroachments do not represent a legal opinion on the part of the Surveyor.

Paragraph 5i: The new wording clarifies that the Surveyor is not responsible for showing encroachments on easements or into setbacks for which documented information has not otherwise been provided.

Paragraph 8 (certification): The new certificate makes allowances for the elimination of Classes of Surveys and also accommodates the new Accuracy Standards (see below).

Table A

Item 7b:
The selections for building floor areas have been revised and clarified.

Item 7c: The new wording clarifies that the height of building requested is a measured height (not, for example, the number of floors) and instructs the Surveyor to indicate where such a measurement was made if not otherwise directed by the client.

Item 11: New wording bifurcates the previous check-off for utilities, thus giving clients a choice between observed evidence of utilities and a more thorough utility investigation.

Item 13: The previous vague "Significant observations not otherwise disclosed" has been eliminated and replaced with an option to show the names of adjoining owners of platted lands (see changes to Paragraph 5d above).

New Accuracy Standards

In addition to eliminating the definitions for the various classes of surveys, a number of changes have been made to the former "Classifications of ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Surveys," including a new title for the document "Accuracy Standards for ALTA®/ACSM Land Title Surveys."

The 1999 standards give Surveyors new freedom in applying their knowledge, procedures, equipment, and personnel in a manner that best addresses the survey at hand. In exchange, however, Surveyors will have to analyze their measurements so they can "assure that the Positional Uncertainties resulting from the survey measurements made on the survey do not exceed the allowable Positional Tolerance." A statement to that effect is required in the new certification.

The Surveyor may opt out of confirming the Positional Uncertainty of the measurements only if the size or configuration of the property to be surveyed or the relief, vegetation or improvements on the property will result in survey measurements for which the Positional Uncertainty will exceed the allowable Positional Tolerance.

In such a case, which is expected to be a fairly rare occurrence, the Surveyor must alternatively apply the "Minimum Angle, Distance, and Closure Requirements for Survey Measurements Which Control Land Boundaries for ALTA®-ACSM Land Title Surveys" to the measurements made on the survey or employ, in his or her judgment, proper field procedures, instrumentation, and adequate survey personnel in order to achieve comparable results.

The former Table of "Minimum Angle, Distance and Closure Requirements for Survey Measurements Which Control Land Boundaries for ALTA®-ACSM Land Title Surveys" which burdened Surveyors with very specific measurement procedures and equipment, much of which is now out-of-date, has been eliminated except for the Urban portion which is to be applied only in the rare cases described above.

The result of these changes to the Accuracy Standards is that instead of being told expressly how to make their measurements, Surveyors are now allowed to apply their specialized knowledge, equipment and personnel in order to achieve a certain standard. For a full copy of the new Accuracy Standards, see information below.


The authors attended ALTA®’s Annual Convention in Colorado Springs in early October and had the opportunity to discuss and answer questions related to the 1999 proposal. A few days later, ALTA® voted in favor of adopting the new standards. The NSPS Board of Governors and Board of Directors followed suit at the ACSM Fall Meeting in Grand Rapids and the ACSM Board of Direction completed the approval process by adopting the 1999 standards in late October.


The work of developing and constantly revising any set of standards is never complete in a changing world. ALTA®, ACSM and NSPS will continue to solicit and consider suggestions for future revisions. In particular, the NSPS Standards Committee and the NSPS ALTA® Standards Committee both intend to continue to work to improve the Accuracy Standards.

To obtain a copy of the 1999 Standards with the accompanying Accuracy Standards, contact ALTA® at 1-800-787-ALTA or visit  and click on the links provided for the PDF files to download.

The authors would like to acknowledge the spirit of cooperation constantly exhibited by James Maher, Executive Director of ALTA®, J. Michael Calder of ALTA®, and Larrie Hindman and Paul McNamara of the ALTA® Lenders Counsel. Invaluable contributions of time and effort by Harold Charlier and A.J. Meyers, in addition to the many persons across the country who provided helpful comments and input, must also be recognized.

Mary Feindt, L.S., is President of Advanced Geomatics, a division of Charlevoix Abstract & Engineering Company in Michigan, and Chairperson of the ALTA® Liaison Committee with ASCM. She has been active in updating the Minimum Detail Standards for Land Title Surveys since 1986. She can be reached at 231-547-9901 or .

Gary Kent, L.S., is the Director of Surveying for The Schneider Corporation, a 230-person consulting firm based in Indianapolis, and Chairperson, NSPS/ACSM ALTA® Standards Committee. He has presented workshops on survey standards to attorneys, title companies and surveyors in nearly 20 states in the last two years. He can be reached at 317-898-8282 or .

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