Understanding Your Survey Map

The home buying process has a lot of moving parts.   The closing is the culmination of months of work and collaboration.  Homeowners not only walk away with a key to their new house, but also a folder full of documents. Typically, these documents are placed away and saved, only to be pulled out again when it is time to sell.

The instrument survey map is one document that homeowners should keep at hand.  Monroe County Bar Association standards for property transfers do not require that properties in Monroe County be staked.  Accordingly, instrument survey maps are prepared by licensed surveyors to identify the property boundary lines, locate the improvements of the property, show if the property is in compliance with any private agreements, and demonstrate the areas over which third parties may have rights to.

Knowing where your property boundary lines are can lessen the risk of any misplaced improvements.  Planning to have a new shed built?  Check to see that it doesn’t violate any setback restrictions.  Building a chicken coup?  Make sure it isn’t set up in an easement.  Installing a new fence?  Be sure to mark where your property boundary lines are.

Attorneys often address improvement misplacements prior to closing.  The most common misplacement type is a fence.  Many property owners assume that the existing fence was properly placed and instruct fencing companies to install a new fence exactly where the existing fence was installed.   In Monroe County, fences need to be placed either within one (1) foot of the property boundary line or more than three (3) feet inside the property boundary line to avoid inadvertently creating the need for a BLA to be recorded in conjunction with closing.  Since most contractors do not and will not ask for your survey map, you should offer it to them.

Boundary line agreements (commonly known as a “BLA”) are drafted by attorneys to eliminate claims of adverse possession for property owners.  Adverse possession is where one may lay claim to another’s property based on continuous use of another’s property.  For example, if a fence is misplaced and a neighbor continually mows the lawn on your property between the fence and the neighbor’s property line, that neighbor may lay a claim to that land through adverse possession. BLA’s are sent out in conjunction with a real estate transfer to neighboring property owners to sign acknowledging the misplacement, consent to the neighbor’s use of the property, and agree that no party can make a claim of adverse possession.  They are recorded with the local County Clerk to clear title for the property transfer.

So what happens if you receive a BLA in the mail to sign?  You are welcome to send it to your own attorney to review.  What if you don’t have an attorney?  Call the attorney that sent it to you to sign.  They should be able to explain its purpose and why it was prepared in detail because they should be familiar with the transaction.  In fact, depending on the misplacement, you may need the same agreement signed when you go to sell your property!

Instrument survey maps can offer a wealth of information about the property you just purchased.  As technology improves, licensed surveyors have been able to continually improve their measurements to allow for more accurate survey maps to be created.  These digitally created maps sometimes require new, more modern legal descriptions to be used to transfer the property.  If you ever have a question about your survey map, you can always call an attorney who practices real estate to help you understand and interpret your map.

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

Christine Szpet is an attorney focused on practicing Real Estate, Estate Planning and Elder Law. She advises her clients and their families on navigating the legal issues that come at the intersection of real estate, business succession planning, estate planning, and long-term care planning. Christine can be reached at christine@morgdevo.com or (585) 672-5500.