Organizations Adopt New ALTA/ACSM Standards

In October 1999, the American Land Title Association (ALTA), the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors, Inc. (NSPS) completed a process that commenced this past July by adopting 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 20th, 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 at O'Hare Airport on July 16, 1999 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% of the time regardless of the anticipated use of the property.

Changes to the Content Standards
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 party 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.

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, may the surveyor opt out of confirming the Positional Uncertainty of the measurements.

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.

NSPS ALTA Standards Committee Chair Gary Kent attended ALTA's annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado in early October in order to discuss and answer questions related to the 1999 proposal. A few days later, on October 6th, 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 on October 20th.

ALTA is currently publishing the 1999 standards in the familiar tri-fold form with the accompanying Accuracy Standards. This document should be available through ALTA, ACSM and NSPS by January.

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 on continuing to work to improve the Accuracy Standards.
The writer 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, A.J. Meyers and Mary Feindt, in addition to the many persons across the country who provided helpful comments and input, must also be recognized.


Gary Kent, LS, chairs the ACSM/NSPS committee on ALTA-ACSM Land Title Survey Standards and frequently gives workshops around the country on those standards. Currently he is Surveying Coordinator for The Schneider Corporation, a 230-person consulting firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gary is Vice-President of ACSM, past-president of the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors, and served on the Board of Directors of NSPS in 1997-1998.

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