Several decades ago, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) partnered with the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), to create what was formally known as an ALTA ACSM land title survey; this was in effort to help streamline the surveying standards from state to state, regardless of where the title agency is originated or where the property is located. It helped establish a common denominator among everyone, to rely on and feel confident in. In 2016, ACSM merged with and became the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Now, they are frequently referred to as ALTA/NSPS land title survey.

In buying commercial property, whether vacant or improved, buyers and their lenders usually require an ALTA/NSPS land title survey— put simply: an ALTA survey. This survey combines a boundary survey; it graphically shows and describes the physical outline of the land with the location of improvements, possible encroachments, easements, utilities, and research as to the title exceptions of record. ALTA surveys provide important information necessary for producing a title insurance policy for a buyer and their lender, as well as showing any potential issues with the land and the improvements.

The ALTA and the NSPS recently adopted revised Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys. The new standards were effective February 23, 2021, and have replaced the existing standards introduced in 2016. The 2021 Standards include a variety of changes that aim to further limit a surveyor’s liability and provide better clarity.

Following are a few of the primary changes for 2021:

In 1995, the US Supreme Court case of Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno 515 US 417, found that the word “shall” is a false imperative that actually means “may.” So, the Joint Committee reviewed each use of the words “must” and “shall” and used the one that it felt was most appropriate in each case, with “must” indicating an imperative.

Section 3.D – Clarifies that the property that is the subject of the land title survey is now expressed throughout the Standards as either “the surveyed property” or “the property to be surveyed.”

Section 6.C.viii – This new item addresses a problem that many surveyors have encountered. If the surveyor becomes aware of a recorded easement not identified in the title evidence provided (typically a title commitment), the surveyor must now advise the title company of the easement. Further, if no evidence of a release is provided, that easement must be shown or its existence otherwise explained on the face of the plat or map.

Table A Introduction – The introductory paragraph of Table A now clarifies its original intent (from 1988) that the wording of a Table A item may also be negotiated, in addition to whether the item will be included and the associated fee. Any negotiated changes to the wording of an item (and any additional negotiated items) must be explained with a note.

Table A Item 11 – This item has been significantly simplified in order to better manage clients’ expectations, relating to a surveyor’s ability to show underground utilities. There are now two choices that a client can select from. Note that a choice relating to 811 locate requests has been eliminated. With few exceptions, such requests are unhelpful and the Committee does not expect that trend to be reversed. Of course, surveyors are encouraged to negotiate their own wording, especially if it is their experience that there are processes for locating underground utilities in their areas that are, in fact, productive.

Table A Item 18 – The wetlands item has been deleted; it continues to be confusing to clients and is unrelated to any title issue. Of course, wetlands could be addressed with an additional Table A item negotiated as an item 20.

The above list is not intended to be all-inclusive for the 2021 revisions, but is intended to shed light and raise awareness of the complexity of an ALTA survey.

Without an ALTA survey, the parties do not have knowledge of what exists on the ground. ALTA surveys play an important role in eliminating risks. The price of an ALTA survey can be seemingly expensive, although the chance of the running into unexpected issues can be far more costly and detrimental.

Anticipating and incorporating regulation changes, the surveyors at Baseline are experts implementing new regulations and requirements to ensure our projects run smoothly and are complete and compliant. Our firm has over 23 years of experience in surveying, and is prepared to assist you with any surveying needs. For more information, please contact our Survey Division Manager, Aaron Demo at (970) 353-7600×303 or