2021 ALTA/NSPS Standards Contain Minor Changes That May Affect How Surveys Are Prepared And Conducted

March 22, 2021

A new version of the American Land Title Association (ALTA)/National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Minimum Standard Detail Requirements became effective February 23, 2021, marking the 10th edition of the standards, which undergo changes every five years. Why February 23? It marks the date of the historic festival of the Roman god Terminus, who was the protector of boundary markers.

The purpose of an ALTA/NSPS survey is to reflect title issues on a property. The goal is not to provide an engineering design survey, but rather to identify boundaries, zoning information, flood zones and other factors of a parcel in a detailed map to show what factors could affect the ownership of the property.

The 2021 ALTA/NSPS Survey Standards contain few major changes from the Standards adopted in 2016, but a few changes and clarifications may affect how ALTA/NSPS surveys are prepared and conducted. Here are some of the highlights.

Utilities, Cost, and Time

After being combined in 2016, Table A Options 11a and 11b have returned to the Standards. They indicate that a client must either provide plans showing where underground utilities are located, or have the surveyor coordinate markings with a private utility locating company. As a result, the cost and time spent on the ALTA/NSPS survey could be impacted.

There also has been a slight change made for utility markings. The expectation is that a surveyor, in identifying utilities, also identifies the owner of the utility. The 2021 Standards make clear that if the owner of the utility is unknown, that must be specifically noted. In the past, the surveyor made note of any known utility owners, but would not specifically identify unknown owners.

Measurement Standards

Among the changes is to the Relative Positional Precision standards. Past wording had led to the potential misunderstand that analysis would need to be performed on every corner of the property. In the 2021 Standards, it is clarified that it needs to be done on only two corners of the property.

ALTA/NSPS says: “Alternatively, Relative Positional Precision can be estimated by the standard deviation of the distance between the monument or witness marking any boundary corner of the surveyed property and the monument or witness marking an immediately adjacent boundary corner of the surveyed property (called local accuracy) that can be computed using the full covariance matrix of the coordinate inverse between any given pair of points, understanding that Relative Positional Precision is based on the 95 percent confidence level, or approximately 2 standard deviations.”

Easements, Servitudes, Rights of Way, Access, and Documents

The surveyor is required to include a summary of all rights of way, easements, or other survey-related matters burdening and benefitting the surveyed property and identified in the title evidence. According to Section 6.C.ii.e of the 2021 Standards, the surveyor may now also provide additional information about rights of way, easements, or other survey-related items that are not on, do not touch, or do not affect the property, but that information may be based only on the description in the record document.  

Omission of Wetlands

In the past, ALTA and NSPS had modified language in the Standards to make it clearer that the surveyor was not delineating wetlands, but rather was simply locating the delineation that a qualified specialist had already marked. After some discussion, ALTA and NSPS eliminated that language altogether because they determined it’s unrelated to title issues. The location of delineated wetlands can still be requested as a fill-in option, item 20.

If you have any questions about how the 2021 ALTA/NSPS Standards might affect you, please contact Don Groesser, P.L.S., CEC’s Survey/Geospatial Lead, at 412.249.2338 or dgroesser@cecinc.com.


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About the Author


CEC Staff

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) provides comprehensive market-oriented consulting services to advance client strategic business objectives. CEC is recognized for delivering innovative design solutions and integrated expertise in air quality, civil engineering, ecological sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, manufacturing infrastructure services, survey/geospatial, waste management, and water resources.

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