2021 ALTA/NSPS Standards

A new version of the ALTA/NSPS Minimum Standard Detail Requirements will become effective on February 23, 2021.  This is the tenth edition of the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements that were recently adopted and accepted by ALTA (American Land Title Association) and NSPS (National Society of Professional Surveyors). I understand that the effective date coincides with the celebration of the Roman god Terminus, who per Roman history, protected boundary markers thus making February 23rd a symbolic date for surveyors.

Some of the modifications will affect both the surveyor’s and user’s responsibilities and comprehension. These modifications occur not only in the Minimum Standards, but also in the Optional Table A items listing.

Below are some of the more significant changes:

  • Section 3.D. – Clarifies that the property that is the subject of the survey is now expressed throughout the Standards as either “the surveyed property” or “the property to be surveyed.”
  • Section 3.E.i. – The definition of Relative Positional Precision has been modified such that it now applies only to “the monument or witness marking any boundary corner of the surveyed property relative to the position of the monument or witness marking an immediately adjacent boundary corner of the surveyed property.” Under prior Standards, it included the relationship of “the monument, or witness, marking any corner of the surveyed property relative to the monument, or witness, marking any other corner of the surveyed property.” Additionally, in order to create a more defensible definition of RPP, a sentence was added clarifying that the definition refers to “local accuracy” and that, in addition to how it can be estimated with a correctly weighted least square adjustment of the survey, it can also be computed using “the full covariance matrix of the coordinate inverse between any given pair of points.”
  • Section 4 – The Records Research section appears in the red-lined version to be almost completely changed; however, upon close review, one will see that there are very few changes; the content of the section has merely been rearranged for clarity.
  • Section 5.C.ii. – This item has been modified in order to reference Section 5.E.iv. with respect to which utility poles need to be located.
  • Sections 5.E.ii., iii. and iv. – This item has been modified in order to provide that utility locate markings should be shown as evidence of easements and utilities, including a note as to the source of the markings (with a note if unknown).
  • Section 6.C.ii. – This item now calls for limiting the summary to rights of way, easements, and other survey-related matters. This is a Land Title Survey and it does not concern itself with matters that are not survey-related.
  • Section 6.C.ii.(e) – Clarifies that surveyors may provide objective information on rights of way, easements, or survey-related matters (i.e., whether they are on or touch the surveyed property), or, if they are so inclined, they can also opine on the “effect” of such matters, but that such opinions will be based on the description contained in the document. This prevents surveyors from being put in the position of opining on the legal effect of an easement.
  • Section 6.C.iii. – A minor change that eliminates what amounted to an unintentional requirement that surveyors determine if an abutting street or road is public.
  • Section 6.C.vi. – Include the tax parcel number for adjoining properties, except where the adjoiner is a platted land.
  • 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 and 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 items 6(a) and (b) – These items have been modified in order to clarify that zoning information specific to the surveyed property must be provided to the surveyor. Of course, there is nothing to prevent surveyors from negotiating to conduct zoning research themselves if they are qualified and so inclined.
  • Table A item 10(b) – This item, which addressed whether certain walls are plumb, has been eliminated, leaving what had been item 10(a) as simply item 10
  • Table A item 11 – This item has been significantly simplified with the aim of trying to better manage clients’ expectations relating to the ability of a surveyor 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 item 20.
  • Table A item 19 – The wording of this item has been revised yet again. By selecting this item, offsite easements (which are typically included as easement parcels in Schedule A of the title commitment) will be surveyed as if they are fee parcels (except that they will not be monumented).

Of course, there are a number of minor revisions as well. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1995 case of Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno, 515 U.S. 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.

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