Top 10 Changes to the minimum requirements for ALTA surveys

#2: Phase 1 anybody?

With the 2016 ALTA standards in effect, you might notice that Optional Table A, Item 18, no longer deals with environmental concerns. Item 18 instead includes guidance for wetlands. It is probably safe to say that the removal of this item is a welcome one from the survey community. But, why was it removed?  As with all things, the ALTA standards continually evolve to keep up with expectations and needs from the surveying, lending, and title insuring communities. 

While most commonly used for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) surveys, the inclusion of the old Optional Table A, Item 18, has increasingly found its way into standard requests by clients, attorneys, and lenders. Under the 2011 ALTA standards, Item 18 language read: Observed evidence of site use as a solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill. While the verbiage relating to a site environmental condition is fairly vague, questions often arise regarding the surveyor’s liability in making such a determination. For example; what constitutes a solid waste dump, sump, or sanitary landfill?  Is it the one junk car located on a potential development property? Quite possibly it is just that - a random car left for waste after it’s reached the end of its lifecycle. However, that one car could also be evidence of a larger environmental issue if the property has been used as a salvage yard or dumping ground for other materials over time. Historically, surveyors have pushed back on the inclusion of this item as many have felt that expressing an opinion about a site’s environmental condition reaches beyond their area of expertise.    

As more comprehensive measures are being taken to evaluate environmental concerns on real property, it has become unnecessary or redundant for the land surveyor to make a statement regarding potential environmental conditions on the face of an ALTA survey. More often, owners and developers are obtaining environmental site assessments, typically a Phase I report, which identify and address environmental matters on a particular piece of property. 

Working closely with our environmental scientists at Westwood, I’ve seen first-hand how Phase I reports go well beyond the review of observed evidence that I would provide as a land surveyor conducting an ALTA survey. Their Phase 1’s include site observations while taking into account other information such as historical records, aerial photography, and interviews. Phase I environmental assessments mitigate the potential risk caused by after-the-fact findings, as well as help a potential owner evaluate things such as site cleanup prior to starting a redevelopment opportunity.   

With Phase 1’s becoming more common in the extra steps owners and developers take in completing due diligence on their projects, the omission of 2011’s version of Optional Table A, Item 18, makes good sense. It is likely to eliminate some of the confusion and error sometimes encountered during the development process by encouraging better solutions through the unique expertise of both the land surveyor and environmental scientist.

Coming up next - #1: What’s new with utilities?

View #3: Who's doing the research?

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