Not All Surveys are Created Equal: The ALTA Survey

Best Practices: Not All Surveys are Created Equal: The ALTA Survey

By: Amy R. Brownstein, Esq.
Starfield & Smith, P.C.

Amy R. Brownstein, Esquire

My colleague, Kristen Dickey, previously touched on the minimum standards for information to be shown on a survey in her article “Best Practices: Surveys”.

The information that is shown on a “survey” can vary widely. In contrast to surveys generally, a survey that is an “ALTA survey” must meet specific standards that apply to all ALTA surveys, and must show or address specific items. This consistent standard means that the ALTA survey you receive for a particular transaction can be expected to have been prepared using the same standards that apply to every ALTA survey. If you receive a “survey” that is not an ALTA survey, there is no way to tell what standards were followed in its preparation, and it may or may not include information that you might expect.

For example, the ALTA standards (the current version of which became effective on February 23, 2011) impose certain measurement standards and require the surveyor to note on the survey any impermissible variance from these standards. The ALTA standards also impose set requirements for the work to be performed by the surveyor. These requirements include those related to the identification of monuments controlling the legal description of the property and of rights of way and access, and those showing the location of buildings, easements, cemeteries, water features and the boundaries of the property.

The ALTA standards also provide a list of optional items – known as the “Table A” items – that the parties receiving the survey may ask the surveyor to include on the survey. If the lender is asked what items it wants a newly ordered survey to show, it should review the optional items listed on Table A and determine which of those items are applicable to the project it is funding. In most cases, the lender will want to include, at a minimum, the following items:

3. Flood zone designation

4. Gross land area

6(a). Current Zoning classification

6(b). Building setback requirements, height and floor space area restrictions

7(a). Exterior dimensions of buildings at ground level

8. Substantial features observed such as billboards, signs, parking lots, etc.

9. Striping, type and number of parking spaces

10. Party walls

11. Locations of utilities existing on or serving the surveyed property.

Other items that the lender may wish to include are monuments at the corners of the property, street addresses, property contour information, square footage of buildings and other areas, building heights, any requirements of government agencies (such as HUD or the Bureau of Land Management), names of adjoining owners, observed evidence of construction work or use of the site as a solid waste dump, and the location of wetlands areas. The parties may also add their own requirements to those already listed on Table A. Any requested Table A items should be identified before work on the survey begins.

When a survey is ordered in connection with a project for which a lender is making a loan, it certainly will benefit the lender to take the time to consider which items it would like to see on the survey, based on the specific project, and request that those items be included.

For more information regarding Surveys, please contact Amy at or at (215) 542-7070.