location surveys

If Compass Consultants had an office in Pisa, Italy during the 12th century, then the world would not have gotten one of its most famous buildings. We would have carefully scrutinized the proposed site of Pisa Cathedral’s new bell tower, done our research, and reported to our client that the ground was far too soft to support a 183 marble structure.

By the year 1990, its unstable foundation had caused the bell tower to list 5.5° to the side – not so much that it fell over before remedial work would reduce the tilt to just 3.97°. Sure, the Italians could have eliminated the tower’s tilt altogether, but Pisa Tourismo surely would have had a conniption fit if they did.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was a happy accident. But you should not expect the same outcome if you build on unsuitable land! Heavy clay and sandy soil are both common throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, which means you simply cannot do without a location survey before breaking ground on a new construction project.

What Is a Location Survey?

A location survey is an in-depth analysis of a proposed site for development. It assesses the physical, environmental and legal constraints of the site, compares them to the project’s requirements, and determines whether the land is suitable for the project.

If a location survey produces a positive result, the builder may next proceed to conducting a feasibility study which assesses the economic, social and political factors of the project. (Of course, if you’re only building a house on land you already own, then social and political factors are likely to be moot as far as the scope of the project is concerned.)

When Do You Need a Location Survey?

You should always get a location survey before planning new construction. It won’t just spare you the enormous expense of attempting to build on unsuitable terrain, such as wetland, or too close to other features, such as existing buildings. It will also ensure that the proposed construction is fully compliant with all existing zoning laws. The penalties for violating these laws can include fines, demolition, and even criminal charges in some cases.

Your general contractor may attempt to assure you that a lot is suitable for construction, and that a location survey would be superfluous. They may be correct, but you should still commission a location survey all the same. For all their other experience, a contractor does not possess the same training and equipment as a professional land surveyor, and cannot say with total certainty whether it’s safe and legal to build. A contractor is also probably unfamiliar with every zoning variance the proposed construction site is subject to – another field of expertise which solely belongs to local land surveyors.

When You Build, Build With Confidence

Are you in the earliest stages of construction planning in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota? Leave nothing to chance! Contact Compass Consultants today to schedule your location survey, as well as the ALTA survey, construction survey, and any other survey you need to proceed with the utmost confidence. We promise you this: no leaning building in the Midwest is ever going to become a tourist attraction.

Boundary Surveying

“It’s important to establish boundaries.” This has become very popular relationship advice recently, and we do agree that it can be healthy to forbid your mother-in-law from joining you on your honeymoon.

But as professional land surveyors, we strongly believed in the importance of establishing boundaries long before it became a psychological concept du jour. That’s because land boundaries are fundamental to the concept of land ownership itself – which makes boundary surveys no less crucial.

What Is a Boundary?

Also known as property lines, boundary lines form the outermost edge of a parcel of real estate. If your property were to become its own sovereign state, then its boundary lines would become its borders.

Boundary lines are typically defined according to county or city guidelines, and are available at those entities’ respective assessors’ offices. Deeds, which transfer real ownership of properties, often include boundary line descriptions. Many existing boundary lines are also defined by survey pins, which are physical markers placed by professional land surveyors.

Why Is It Important to Know Your Boundary Lines?

Knowing precisely what your land is – and where it ends – is vital for a number of reasons. It can save you the considerable legal expense of becoming the defendant in an encroachment lawsuit. Likewise, it can prevent you from encroaching on a municipal or utility easement, a mistake that carries equal potential for financial loss. Knowing your parcel’s boundary lines can also prevent you from losing your title insurance – an expensive mistake under many circumstances.

What Is a Boundary Survey?

A boundary survey is a type of land survey that determines the true placement of a land parcel’s property lines. It also indicates wherever there are encroachments, such as a neighboring landowner’s misplaced fence, and easements, such as placement of utility lines

A land surveyor considers many sources of information while preparing a boundary survey. That includes consulting public records made available by sources such as the Registrar of Titles, the Probate Registrar, the Department of Transportation, and the offices of the town and county governments. Conversations with the parcel’s previous owner and whomever owns adjoining property can provide valuable information as well.

The surveyor uses the information they collect to measure, mark and map the limits of a parcel’s boundary lines. This process, which involves identifying physical features which might mark boundary lines (such as a stream), placing survey stations, and establishing traverse networks, is what you see a surveyor doing while they’re out in the field wearing a high-visibility vest and fiddling around with a tripod.

When field work is complete, the surveyor compares its results to those of their earlier research. Once they have carefully reconciled all of the information they have gathered, the surveyor concludes the exact position of the boundary lines. After they have placed new survey pins (or whichever type of monument their client has specified), the surveyor prepares a legal description of the boundary lines and formally reports their findings.

When Do You Need a Boundary Survey?

“Investment must be rational; if you can’t understand it, don’t do it.” Warren Buffett famously said this about investing in businesses, but it is no less applicable to land ownership. In no uncertain terms, if you own land, then you owe it to yourself to understand precisely which land you own. That means engaging a surveyor if you’re unsure of your property’s boundary lines.

Boundary surveys are also routine whenever land parcels are purchased, sold, subdivided, or improved upon. Building improvements, which include additions to existing structures, carry a real risk of encroachment when boundary lines aren’t known. Likewise, if you intend to build a new fence, swimming pool or guest house – or install a septic tank – then you had better make certain to do it squarely within the confines of your boundary lines if you wish to avoid civil court.

How Long Does a Boundary Survey Take?

Not very long. At Compass Consultants, we typically require two to three days to complete a survey, which includes the one to two days we spend onsite. Naturally, the exact timeframe in which we can complete a boundary survey depends on many factors, including the size and complexity of the parcel, the season and weather, and the number of surveys we are already obligated to produce for our clients.

If you’re currently unsure of your boundary lines, preparing to purchase or sell a parcel of land, or planning to build on land you currently own, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today for your boundary survey. We service Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and we also provide comprehensive ALTA surveys, location surveys, construction surveys, and other surveys that present essential information to buyers, sellers and lenders alike.

selling commercial land

Take the first two letters of your last name. Next add the last letter of your first name. Finally, enter those three letters on the Nasdaq, and purchase $700,000 worth of whichever stock they represent.

If you think that sounds like bad investment advice, then you are correct. You should never make an investment until you understand precisely what you are investing in – and commercial land is certainly no exception.

Never Buy Commercial Land Without a Survey

Here is equally bad investment advice: purchase commercial property that you haven’t received an ALTA survey for. You’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars without knowing the land’s boundaries, whether it is subject to any easements, whether it evinces the existence of underground utilities, or the names of the owners of adjoining properties. You truly are flying blind when you buy commercial property without a comprehensive land survey.

Some commercial land buyers assume that a good title insurance policy preempts the need for a survey. Although having title insurance is advisable in the overwhelming majority of commercial land deals, it does not provide complete protection against every potential issue.

Despite what its name suggests, an ALTA Extended Title Policy does not extend to disclose the locations of improvements and utilities. It does not disclose whether the property is currently in violation of municipal zoning ordinances. It does not disclose existing relationships between owners of adjoining land, the relationship of occupied liens to record lines, or other matters which typically aren’t recorded but which materially affect land. Only an ALTA survey reveals such crucial details, and provides the exhaustive picture a commercial property investor needs in order to fully comprehend precisely what they are getting into.

This caveat is a moot point to many commercial land buyers, however. If you are partnering with a financial lender, then it will most likely require an ALTA survey before the transaction can proceed. That’s because the information it presents is crucial to ensuring the property’s value and whether it is zoned correctly. Lenders know that ALTA surveys can prevent massive headaches. Buyers are advised to follow suit.

Never Sell Commercial Land Without a Survey, Either

Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. It has been a tenet of common law for over four centuries, and essentially means that a seller isn’t responsible if their buyer incurs a loss that they could have avoided by inspecting or researching a chattel beforehand.

Caveat emptor is generally understood to apply to real estate transactions as well – but this does not absolve the seller of their ethical duty to represent their property as truthfully as possible.

By revealing the existence of encroachments, easements, boundary line disputes, and other factors which materially affect the property’s value, the seller helps their buyer understand which risks they are assuming and whether they should expect to resolve critical discrepancies. In other words, presenting an ALTA survey to your buyer upfront gives them a better chance of success. That increases their likelihood of buying from you again. It also inclines the buyer to form a favorable opinion of you, which counts for a lot in an industry where a good reputation is worth its weight in gold.

A seller gives themselves another great advantage by ordering their own ALTA survey. If the buyer’s survey presents information that could be used to lobby for a lower price – and that information contradicts the seller’s survey – then the seller has recourse to the buyer’s (possibly dishonest) bargaining tactics. In no uncertain terms, an ALTA survey can provide vital protection against fraud.

Buyers and Sellers Should Discuss Surveys Early On

Whichever side of the closing table you intend to sit on, it’s important to discuss surveys at the onset of the sale process. It clarifies everyone’s expectations for one another, enables the seller to make the property accessible to the buyer’s surveyor, and prevents a “he said, she said” scenario from needlessly complicating the transaction while it’s already underway.

If you’re going to take part in a commercial property transaction in Minnesota, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. In addition to ALTA surveys, we provide comprehensive boundary surveys, location surveys, construction surveys, and other surveys that present essential information for buyers, lenders and sellers alike!

ALTA Survey

Due diligence. It’s just one way a professional sets themself apart from the amateurs. When a professional is involved in the purchase of a commercial property, due diligence compels them to understand the land it is situated on inside and out.

When it comes to land surveying, an ALTA survey represents the highest degree of due diligence. It is an exhaustive land parcel map – not just a demarcation of a parcel’s boundaries, but a detailed inventory of all existing improvements, easements, and other material information about the property.

The details contained by an ALTA survey won’t just prove useful to the buyer. The comprehensive commercial property report is usually required by attorneys, financial institutions and title insurance providers alike. In fact, these professionals are usually the ones that order ALTA surveys in the first place.

ALTA surveys are especially important to lenders. They use that information to validate their borrowers’ investments. After all, they do want to issue good loans. Title insurers, which sell their clients protection against unknown title defects, have every reason to determine whether any part of real property isn’t legally transferable for any reason. An ALTA survey sheds light on that matter by design.

What Does an ALTA Survey Include?

For a survey to meet ALTA specifications, it cannot merely include boundary lines. It must satisfy a set of criteria defined by two national trade associations: the American Land Title Association (ALTA), and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).

The Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys dictates standards for measurement, but we don’t need to delve into the meaning of “Relative Positional Precision” for the purpose of this discussion. Let us focus instead on the elements of records research and fieldwork, which require an ALTA survey to include the following information:

• The current record description of the surveyed property; if one does not already exist, then the survey must include the record description of the parent parcel containing the surveyed property

• Complete copies of the surveyed property’s most recent title commitment; if these do not exist, then other title evidence may be provided instead

• Record descriptions of land parcels adjoining the surveyed property, with some exceptions

• Any recorded easements, regardless of whether they benefit or burden the surveyed propert

• Locations of any existing survey monuments

• Rights of way and access, including the names of all roadways abutting the surveyed property, visible evidence of physical access to said abutting streets, and possible encroachments created by driveways, alleys and private roads of adjoining properties

• The locations of all walls, buildings, fences, and other improvements within 5 feet of each boundary line

• The locations of buildings on the surveyed property

• Evidence of easements, servitudes or other uses by non-owner occupants on the surveyed property: sewer lines, telephone lines, fiber optic lines, electric lines, water lines, gas lines, etc.

• Surface indications of underground easements and servitudes, such as vent pipes and utility cuts

• Cemeteries and other burial grounds

• Water features, including those that form boundaries

This is not an exhaustive list of every detail an ALTA survey must include. But as you can see, an ALTA survey deserves its reputation for being so thorough.

An ALTA survey can also contain information that isn’t specified in the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements. Table A: Optional Survey Responsibilities and Specifications gives the surveyor’s client the option to select additional items. These can include:

• Flood zone classification

• Vertical relief (i.e. topographical characteristics of the surveyed property)

• Exterior dimensions of all buildings at ground level

• Measured heights of all buildings above grade

• Substantial features, such as billboards, swimming pools and unofficial garbage dumps

• Evidence of underground utilities

• Evidence of recent earth moving work, building construction or building additions

• Names of adjoining owners according to current tax records

Are you planning on purchasing commercial property? Or do you work in an industry that regularly orders ALTA surveys on the behalf of its clients? Then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. We serve Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and we provide all types of land surveys including ALTA, boundary, location, subdivision, site-planning and construction.

property fence

In addition to defining a plot’s boundaries, a land survey includes topography: natural and man-made physical features that impact how the land can be used. This information is of crucial importance to people who are considering buying a piece of land. It is also necessary for architects and contractors, who must avoid (A) building on neighboring pieces of land, and (B) attempting to build wherever building is not possible.

New construction always calls for a land survey. Without it, the entire house may be destroyed. Take the recent example of an expensive home in Farmington Hills, MI, which was built on top of a privately owned sewer line. Its owners were threatened with demolition, and only narrowly avoided losing their home by agreeing to reroute a portion of the sewer system through their backyard. A land survey would have prevented such a massive headache!

Land surveys aren’t just prerequisite for larger construction, however. Even smaller projects can go terribly wrong without them.

Septic Systems

If you are currently on good terms with your neighbor, that is bound to change if you install a septic tank on their property. In addition to costly disputes, a land survey can prevent fines. Many jurisdictions require landowners to obtain a permit before installing a subsurface sewage treatment system. Otter Tail County, where Compass Consultants is headquartered, is one of them. You may have to get a site evaluation, which includes a topography assessment, before you are awarded a septic permit. That is a job for a land surveyor.


Locating groundwater is not a job for a land surveyor, but their work is still necessary before well drilling can commence. Among other things, a land surveyor will ascertain that a proposed wellhole would not overlap with existing underground utilities. Even a relatively shallow hole can deal enormous damage to utility lines. Case in point: the elderly Georgian woman who cut off internet access to the entire nation of Armenia while digging for scrap copper with a shovel.


Good fences make good neighbors – but only when those fences don’t create property disputes. If you build a fence that intersects the boundary line between your and your neighbor’s property, you are technically trespassing. Your neighbor would have a great incentive to contest the placement of your fence: not just because they don’t like being trespassed, but because your fence could also constitute an act of adverse possession. In other words, they may actually lose their land if your fence remains there long enough! That’s why if you want to build a fence, only a land survey can save your relationship with your neighbor and prevent a costly legal dispute.

Electrical Conduit

If you’re burying electrical conduit, your first step should be to request a land survey. It won’t just locate existing underground utilities so you can avoid them. It also will determine whether conditions are sufficient for the placement of new underground infrastructure. You don’t want to discover that you can’t install conduit after you have already trenched!

If you’re building a new house or simply adding a well, fence, septic system, or any other feature to your property, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. We serve Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and we provide all types of land surveys including ALTA, boundary, location, subdivision, site-planning and construction.

property line survey

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

– Robert Frost,  “Mending Wall

When neighboring countries dispute their border, they go to war. But when a property dispute arises between two Midwesterners, their course of action is far more civilized. If you and your neighbor have failed to reach an agreement as to whose land is where, don’t worsen the situation by antagonizing them. Simply follow these steps for the most amicable resolution you can reach!

1. Hire a Surveyor

The best way to navigate any dispute is to remain objective. When it comes to land, there is no better way to exercise objectivity than by hiring a professional land surveyor. They will create a map which clearly marks the exact position of a plat’s boundaries, in addition to any other features of importance to the landowner.

2. Check Your Local Laws

A survey is not a definitive verdict on who owns which land. Several local laws can also bear on a property dispute. For example, if your neighbor has spent a number of years using land that you own, then they may be able to claim adverse possession. Likewise, easements, covenants and defective deeds can all have a significant impact on who owns (or has a legal right to use) real property.

3. Attempt an Agreement

It is always best to avoid the courts as often as you are able. If your property dispute hasn’t made your neighbor overly hostile, determine whether they are open to signing a new deed that would dispel any confusion as to whose land is whose. You will need to engage an attorney who specializes in real estate in order to create that deed, and subsequently file that deed with your county’s relevant land registry or recorder’s office.

4. Attempt Mediation

Your neighbor may not be receptive to your invitation to hash out an agreement between just the two of you. If that is the case, then they may be open to mediation. That is where a neutral third party facilitates negotiation so as to avoid the need for official intervention. In the majority of cases, mediation is vastly preferable over proceeding to court.

5. Engage an Attorney

If your attempts to resolve the land dispute between you and your neighbor fail, then it is wise to hire a real estate attorney. Your attorney’s first course of action will be to send your neighbor a letter – not as a threat, per se, but to state your case, evince that your intent is serious, and propose what you and your neighbor can do to formally resolve the dispute. If your neighbor persists in violating your rights, your attorney can file a lawsuit. It is an expensive and lengthy solution to a border dispute, which is why you should strongly consider mediation or reaching a civil agreement first.

A land surveyor cannot settle a property dispute, although they will provide the document you need in order to assert your rights as a landowner. If you have the misfortune of taking part in a property dispute in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants of Perham, MN today.

land survey

A land survey is a comprehensive depiction of a parcel of land. In addition to its exact shape, dimensions and boundaries, a land survey details a parcel’s topography. You may already know a topographic map as one which includes contour lines that show a piece of land’s various elevations. But in broader terms, topography includes all the natural and man-made features a parcel of land could conceivably contain.

Land surveys are used for a wide range of purposes, such as settling boundary issues that have arisen between neighbors, informing land buyers of precisely what they are purchasing, and legally compliant installation of utilities and septic systems. It isn’t uncommon for lenders to require land surveys before granting mortgages to borrowers, either.

Because they must include so many details, land surveys aren’t easy to interpret at first glance. We don’t intend to make you an expert in a single blog post, but simply knowing the following will give you a great head start toward understanding your land survey.


Land surveys contain a number of different symbols. These indicate the exact locations of fire hydrants, water meters, utility poles, gas posts, sewer manholes, catch basins, and other important features. Symbols aren’t drawn to scale. They indicate the feature’s location – not its size relative to other features.

Land surveyors aren’t obligated to utilize a standard set of symbols to represent various natural and manmade features. For this reason, you may see completely dissimilar sets of symbols on two surveys that were created by different surveyors. This doesn’t complicate survey interpretation nearly as much as you might suspect, however. Symbols are usually chosen because they bear superficial resemblance to the features they represent. Furthermore, any professional land survey will include a legend that clearly denotes what each symbol represents.

For examples of the general and utility symbols you might find on a land survey, please review this illustrative chart by the Florida Department of Transportation.


A land survey could theoretically indicate the presence and locations of hundreds of different features. If surveyors wrote out the names of each feature depicted on a plat, the result would be an incomprehensible jumble of illegibly small and overlapping words. This is why surveyors rely on abbreviations – usually one to four letters that stand for one or more words.

As is the case with symbols, surveyors aren’t obligated to use a standard set of abbreviations. Some are easy to assume the meaning of, such as “Ave” for avenue, “BLDG” for building, and “RET WALL” for retaining wall. Others are less intuitive, such as “TSB” for traffic signal box, “WIL” for willow tree, and “BW” for barbed wire. If you find yourself unable to figure out the meanings of more esoteric abbreviations, your land surveyor will only be too happy to shed light on the matter.


A land survey’s most obvious lines are its boundary lines. They are bold, and convey what is arguably the most important information a land survey can present: the exact borders of the parcel.

A land survey’s lines aren’t limited to boundaries. They can also delineate the precise locations of utility lines, bodies of water, building outlines, paving, and any other underground or surface level features. Lines are typically composed of solid stripes that are regularly interrupted by abbreviations of the features they represent, like so:

Gas line:            G            G            G            G

Overhead utility line:            OH            OH            OH            OH

Sewer line:            S            S            S            SH

Note that underground utilities are typically excluded from land surveys unless specially requested. When utility lines are requested, the surveyor can only map them out by referencing whichever information utility companies make freely available. Surveyors cannot pinpoint the exact locations of underground lines on their own!


Boundary lines are legally enforceable, but that doesn’t mean neighboring property owners honor them 100% of the time. Land surveys reflect this reality by pinpointing the locations of any encroaching structures which overlap with or extend beyond the parcel’s boundary lines. These features, which often include fences but may also include driveways, hedges and even buildings, are referred to as “evidence of occupation.”

Evidence of occupation may indicate other property owners’ claims of land ownership, in which case they may evince active attempts at adverse possession. Occupation evidence may also simply reflect neighboring property owners’ unintentional encroachment. In either event, it is important to address any encroachments on your property before they can develop into larger legal issues.

Compass Consultants of Perham, MN provides all major types of land surveys, including ALTA, boundary, location, subdivision, site-planning and construction. If you have need for an accurate survey that completely satisfies the criteria of private and government parties alike, then we welcome you to contact us today for service in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota.

construction survey

If you are an architect, engineer or construction manager, then you are already well aware of how much time and energy go into creating the plans for a project. You cannot afford to jeopardize a project’s timeline and risk going over budget by breaking ground on a tract of land that you do not yet fully comprehend.

A construction survey preempts problems that can occur as the result of building on land you do not understand. It provides detailed information about the project site, and is frequently utilized as the base map for all subsequent construction planning and coordination. But what exactly does a construction survey include that makes it so invaluable to professionals and their clients? Let’s dig in to what you should know before you start digging!


One of the more basic functions of a construction survey is defining the property lines in a specific area. The necessity of understanding boundaries before commencing construction is quite clear: You do not want to inadvertently build on property that isn’t owned by your client. That’s called encroachment, and it only makes life better for lawyers who specialize in civil land disputes.


According to Cornell Law School, an easement is “the grant of a nonpossessory property interest that provides the easement holder permission to use another person’s land.” In essence, an easement permits one party to access and use another party’s land for limited, specific purposes.

If a parcel of land is subject to any number of easements, there may be legal implications to building on it or materially changing it in any other significant way. By inventorying all easements that apply to the land, a construction survey provides even greater assurance that you and your client will not end up in civil court.

Underground Structures

Sewage, water, electric, cable and telephone lines are commonly buried two to three feet underground. This poses an obvious hazard during any construction project which includes excavation: One misguided thrust with a backhoe bucket can instantly cause thousands of dollars in property damage. That is why no construction survey is complete until it maps out all valuable structures buried underfoot.

Existing Buildings

The locations of existing buildings should be obvious at first glance. Still, a comprehensive construction survey will map out all of their exact locations, as that information is invaluable to contractors who must deliver large amounts of materials to and navigate heavy machinery around the property.

Lay of the Land

No construction survey is complete without a topographic survey. In addition to mapping out various artificial and natural features, a topographic survey identifies all elevation changes within a parcel of land. This is invaluable information to have while planning a construction project, and may even alert the contractor that certain structures aren’t suitable for a parcel before they break ground.

New Structures

A construction survey does not exclusively catalog a land lot’s preexisting features. It also reflects the future locations of new roads, buildings, and other structures that will be created over the course of the project. That information gives the contractor a comprehensive overview of the project while there is still time to make changes, and prevents problems that arise when structures are placed too close to one another. If you want to build a new structure or significantly modify an existing one in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota, then you will need a professional surveyor to create a comprehensive land survey. You risk several expensive setbacks without one! We welcome you to contact Compass Consultants of Perham, MN today if you wouldn’t like any surprises during your next project.


Consider this hypothetical scenario:

You have purchased a nice parcel of woodland. It would make the perfect location to build your dream home, but there is no way to connect that home’s driveway to the main road unless you pave a tract through your new neighbor’s land. Unsurprisingly, your new neighbor is not enthusiastic about selling you a long, narrow strip of land that would effectively divide their property in two.

Fortunately, there is a legal way for your new neighbor to retain ownership of their land and still permit you to create a road on it: an easement.

According to Cornell Law School, an easement is “the grant of a nonpossessory property interest that provides the easement holder permission to use another person’s land.” In simpler terms, an easement gives a person or entity the right to (A) access another person or entity’s property, and (B) use it for a limited, specific purpose.

Affirmative vs. Negative Easements

In our hypothetical, the agreement between you and your new neighbor constitutes an affirmative easement. You have the right to access their property for a single, defined purpose: creating and using a road. Affirmative easements are commonly granted to electric companies, which must legally suspend and bury countless miles of cables across the large areas they service. Purchasing thousands of thin ribbons of land would be impractical (and create a bureaucratic nightmare), thus making easements the ideal solution for their needs.

Not all easements work the same way. For example, in exchange for granting you legal use of their land, your new neighbor may request that you build your dream home in such a way that does not block their view of a nearby pond. That would constitute a negative easement – one which doesn’t define what one party can do, but rather what they cannot.

The Six Types of Easements

Several types of easements are used in residential and commercial real estate. Let’s summarize the six you are most likely to encounter while you are purchasing property.

  1. Utility easements give utility companies rights to install equipment on private land which they do not own. Utility easements also give those companies’ employees legal permission to access and maintain equipment. Note that one utility easement may qualify as both affirmative and negative: In addition to preserving the utility company’s right of access, it may also prohibit the property owner from interfering with the utility company’s property (i.e. planting a tree that could grow until it touches powerlines).
  1. Private easements are created between two property owners. A private easement grants specific land use rights only to a specified person, group or agency – not the general public. Private easements typically only apply to the parties involved with their creation, and do not carry over to future owners of the same property.
  1. Easements by prescription may result from acts of adverse possession. If someone uses property they do not own in a hostile, open and notorious manner – and the owner of said property makes no reasonable attempt to stop them within a certain number of years – then the trespasser may actually receive legal rights to continue using that land. The moral of prescriptive easements is quite obvious: Do not let people use your land without your permission.
  1. Easements by necessity are created when private ownership of one parcel of land would make another parcel effectively worthless. Also known as access easements, they essentially allow the owner of one parcel of land to traverse another owner’s land when no other method for accessing their own land is practical. The government may also assign easements by necessity to the general public, as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources does with trout stream easements.
  1. Easements by appurtenant can function in the same fashion as private easements or easements by necessity. What distinguishes an easement by appurtenant it its permanence: It remains attached to a property regardless of whether that property changes ownership, and as such can significantly impact how a new owner is able to utilize their property.
  1. Easements in gross do not define dominant and servient estates – and unlike easements by appurtenant, they do not necessarily remain attached to a property after it has been sold. An easement in gross sells another party the right to use land without giving them any legal ownership over it.

Should You Avoid Buying a Property That Has an Easement?

Owning a property that has easements may sound like more trouble than it’s worth. However, most easements don’t create very much inconvenience or significantly impact a property’s market value. Utility easements are often the cost of owning a property that is reliably supplied with electricity, gas and water. Many other easements simply give neighbors a way to enjoy the same beach, kids a way to walk safely to school, and other liberties that are invaluable to a cohesive community.

That said, there are easements which could make it impossible to make use of a property as you would like to. Read this message loud and clear: Never purchase a property without performing an exhaustive title search. You don’t want to learn about an easement or lien before it affects your rights as a property owner!

If you want to create an easement in the state of Minnesota, then you will need a professional land surveyor. Contact Compass Consultants of Perham, MN today if you would like the job done with speed, accuracy and peerless attention to detail!

land survey requirements

The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners adopted new survey requirements on June 14th, 2022. Land & Resource Policy #11: Survey Requirements went into effect on July 1st, 2022, and requires several variance applications (which, when granted, allow landowners to break an otherwise applicable dimensional zoning rule) to be accompanied by a survey. The survey must be created by a land surveyor who is currently licensed in the state of Minnesota.

The following conditions now apply to variance applications that are filed in Otter Tail County, MN:

  • Substandard lots – If a property does not meet width or area dimensions standards per Table II (minimum lot dimension standards for lakes) of the Shoreland Management Ordinance (pg. 26), its variance application must include a survey.
  • Nonconformities – If a variance application is filed for a nonconforming structure (i.e. a building which does not conform to current zoning standards, but which was constructed prior to those standards’ implementation), that application must include a survey.
  • Impervious surface – If a variance application exceeds impervious surface requirements, it must include a survey.
  • Bluff/bluff impact zone – Any variance application related to setbacks to a bluff or bluff impact zone must include a survey.
  • Setback variance – Any setback variance to a property line must include a survey.

Land & Resource Policy #11: Survey Requirements also requires all conditional use permit applications to be accompanied by a survey (with the exception of earth moving conditional use permits).

Otter Tail Survey Requirements as of July 1st, 2022

Land & Resource Policy #11: Survey Requirements is important to anyone who would submit a survey to Otter Tail County, as it updates the country’s official survey requirements. According to the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners, any survey created for the aforementioned variance applications must include the following:

  • Two 11 x 17 Certificate of Survey copies or one electronic copy
    • Scale of drawing, north arrow, and property legal description
  • Names of all abutting streets, dimensions of all boundary lines, road right-of-way(s), and traveled road centerlines and known road widths D
  • ate of survey completion and Land Surveyor license number and signature
  • Location of and dimensions of all existing structures on the property including house, garage, driveways, sheds, decks, and locations of drinking water well(s) and septic system(s) if known
  • An additional drawing is required with the application showing the location of all proposed improvements, including the house, garage, driveways, sheds, and decks is required, but does not have to be completed by a licensed surveyor
  • Boundaries of all wetlands; known high water level elevations of all lakes and rivers.
  • Exact dimensions from existing structures to boundary lines, including the ordinary high-water level of the body of water
  • Percent of existing impervious surface on property
    • An additional drawing with the application showing the location of proposed impervious surface improvements, including the percent of total impervious for the property after project completion, is required, but does not have to be completed by a licensed surveyor 
  • One-foot contours, if determined by the Department
  • Location of stakes as detailed in the Staking Requirements below
  • Deviations from these requirements are at the discretion of Land & Resource staff

Staking Requirements

  • Property boundary or property boundary monuments
  • Location of road right-of-way(s), if known
  • All reference/hub stakes/irons shall be established by, or under the supervision of a land surveyor currently licensed in the state of Minnesota and shall be placed along boundary lines and/or boundary corners
    • Placement of stakes of proposed improvements must be placed, but does not have to be placed by a licensed surveyor
  • The maintenance of these stakes, once established by the surveyor, shall be the responsibility of the applicant
  • Stakes shall remain in place until project completion to allow Land & Resource staff, Board of Adjustment members or Planning Commission members to use as part of the application review and conduct inspections

As a professional land surveyor headquartered in Perham, MN, Compass Consultants stays apprised of all local, state and federal regulations for surveys. If you would like to make certain your upcoming variance application’s accompanying survey perfectly conforms to county requirements, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today.