What are the main ALTA survey requirements in 2022, and what were the biggest changes since 2022? Continue reading to learn more!

ALTA surveys represent the highest standard in the land surveying industry, and they play an important role in commercial real estate transactions. 

Because they require higher detail and level of precision than regular boundary surveys, and they involve a lot of different parties (clients, surveyors, lenders, title insurers, etc.), the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society for Professional Surveyors (NSPS) agreed to set a unified standard to be met across all US states and companies.

Historically, there have been different ALTA requirements among title insurers, lenders and clients, sometimes even within the same company. 

This caused a lot of confusion and misunderstandings between them, causing the ALTA and the NSPS to codify minimum standards for this specific type of survey for the first time in 2011. It was later updated in 2016, while the most recent revision took effect on February 23, 2021. 

In this article, we will discuss the current ALTA survey requirements after the latest updates, as detailed in the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it:

1. Purpose

The minimum ALTA survey requirements begin with detailing the purpose of having a common, unified standard among clients, insurers, insureds, lenders and ALTA survey companies

According to ALTA and NSPS, a survey of a property, as well as the plat, map or record of the survey, needs to contain certain specific information in order to be clearly understood by the above-mentioned participants in a real estate transaction. And most importantly, accepted by the insurance company for the purpose of insuring the title. 

A complete ALTA/NSPS survey should include:

  • The on-site fieldwork
  • The preparation of a plat or map
  • Any optional information requested by the client (as detailed in Table A)
  • A certification

2. Request of survey

The next section concerning the main ALTA survey requirements details who should request the survey in a real estate transaction. 

As per the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, the insurance company will typically be the one that requests an ALTA survey, but the client (the buyer in the real estate transaction) is the one who should order and pay for it.

If another person or entity, different from the client, is going to cover the costs of the survey, a written authorization will be needed in order to proceed. The request should specify that an ALTA/NSPS LAND TITLE SURVEY is required, as well as any optional elements that the client may want to be included (as detailed in Table A).

Before requesting the survey, the client, lender and insurer should determine and agree on the scope of work in order to provide their detailed requirements to the lender.

ALTA survey requirements

3. Surveying standards and standards of care

This section of the minimum standard ALTA survey requirements define the standards to which each land surveyors should adhere when conducting the survey:

3.1. Effective date

The last ALTA survey requirements were updated on February 23, 2021, meaning that each previous version was superseded.

3.2. Other standards

In addition to the standards defined by ALTA/NSPS, land surveyors should also take into account any possible state-specific rules and jurisdictions. In case of conflicts between standards, the stricter standard will apply. 

3.3. Normal standard of care

Land surveyors should recognize that there may be unwritten standards of care (local, state, and/or regional) defined by the practice of the “prudent surveyor” in those locales.

3.4. Boundary

The boundary lines and corners of the surveyed property must be established and retraced taking into account the appropriate boundary law principles governed by the evidence collected during the research and fieldwork of the survey. 

3.5. Measurement standards

The ALTA survey requirements established by ALTA and NSPS also define the standards of measurement considering multiple factors, addressing the Relative Positional Precision for professionals marking the corners of the surveyed property. 

This includes standards regarding:

  • The way the Relative Positional Precision is measured and estimated;
  • Uncertainties in location resulting from condition, availability, ambiguity, etc.
  • How sources of uncertainty are weighed as part of the evidence;
  • Precision, accuracy and possible systematic errors;
  • The maximum allowable Relative Positional Precision;

4. Records Research

This section of the ALTA survey requirements determines the necessary data that the land surveyor should be provided with for the preparation of the ALTA survey. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • The current record description of the surveyed property
  • Complete copies of the most recent title commitment, or other title evidence requested by the title insurer;
  • Current record descriptions of adjoiners, recorded easements that benefit or burden the property, unrecorded documents that might be affecting the property, and other documents established under state statutes.

5. Fieldwork

According to the ALTA/NSPS standards, the survey must be performed on the ground (except as otherwise negotiated), and the fieldwork should include the following elements:

  • Monuments – including location, size, character and more;
  • Rights of way and access – including the distance of the property boundaries to the nearest right of way line, as well as the name of streets and highways abutting the surveyed property, among other types of evidence.
  • Lines of possession – and improvements along the boundaries, including the character and location of evidence of possession or occupation along the perimeter of the surveyed property.
  • Buildings – the ALTA survey should also define the location of buildings on the property that were observed during the fieldwork.
  • Easements and servitudes – including easements and servitudes burdening or benefitting the property; evidence of easements and servitudes that are being used by people other than the apparent occupants, and more.
  • Cemeteries – the perimeter of cemeteries and burial ground (which should be as accurate as possible), as well as the location of isolated gravesites not within a cemetery or burial ground.
  • Water features – including the location of ponds, springs, canals, rivers, lakes, streams, swamps and more; that are within five feet of the perimeter boundary of the surveyed property. 

6. Plat or map

As defined in the ALTA survey requirements updated in 2021, the plat or map of an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey should contain certain specific information (along with dimensions whenever appropriate, with the appropriate degree of precision depending on the purpose of the survey and the surveyor’s professional opinion). 

This information includes:

  • Field locations – including evidence and locations gathered, as well as monuments and lines located during the fieldwork.
  • Boundary, descriptions, dimensions, and closures of the surveyed property – including the current record description and the original one (if any).
  • Easements, servitudes, rights of way, access, and document – including location, width, and recording information of all easements, servitudes, etc. that are benefitting or burdening the property.
  • Presentation – the plat or map should be drawn on a sheet with a minimum size of 8 ½ by 11 inches. It should be legible, and use a standard engineering scale that’s clearly indicated in words or numbers.

7. Certification

One of the most important elements when it comes to ALTA survey requirements is the certification. An ALTA survey should bear only the following certification (it should be unaltered):

To (name of insured, if known), (name of lender, if known), (name of insurer, if known), (names of others as negotiated with the client): 

This is to certify that this map or plat and the survey on which it is based were made in accordance with the 2016 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, jointly established and adopted by ALTA and NSPS, and includes Items ___________ of Table A thereof. The fieldwork was completed on ___________ [date]. 

Date of Plat or Map: ___________ (Surveyor’s signature, printed name and seal with Registration/License Number)

As we explained in our previous articles on ALTA boundary surveys, this certification ensures the insurance company, the lender, and other participants in the real estate transaction that the survey meets the minimum ALTA survey requirements as defined by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

alta survey requirements

8. Deliverables

The land surveyor conducting the ALTA survey should provide copies of the plat or map of the survey to the client and the insurer, as well as all other relevant participants in the real estate transaction that may need it.

The hard copy should be on durable and dimensionally stable material, with a quality standard that is acceptable by the insurer. It can be accompanied by a digital image.

9. Table A

Table A includes optional elements that can be requested by the client, on top of the obligatory ones that the ALTA survey should include as stated by the ALTA and NSPS. Some of these optional elements include, but are not limited to:

  • Monuments placed at the major corners of the boundaries of the surveyed property;
  • Addresses of the surveyed property observed during fieldwork;
  • Flood zone classification depicted by scaled map location and graphic plotting;
  • Gross land area, as well as other areas that were specified by the client;
  • Vertical relief with the source of information and other details;
  • Exterior dimensions of all buildings that are located on ground level;
  • Substantial features that were observed during the fieldwork, such as parking lots;
  • Number and type of identifiable parking spaces on surface lots and parkings;
  • Evidence of underground utilities;

And more. You can see the complete table at the end of this document.

Changes to the ALTA survey requirements since 2016

In one of our upcoming articles, we will discuss what has changed since the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys in 2016, and how it has impacted the land surveying industry. 

However, you can also consult this document in which the official organizations behind the ALTA standard have highlighted the changes between the 2016 version and the 2022 version.

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