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.

land survey

Imagine you are constructing a building or improving a landscape. You elect to survey the property twice: once at the onset of the project, and again upon its completion. You might think the two surveys would include all the information which pertains to the property – but you would be mistaken.

Those surveys would fail to encompass key details. They would not include the order in which various aspects of the project were completed. They would not accurately depict the locations of buried features such as sewer lines. They would also not provide a record of whichever changes had to be made to the original plan. As any builder will tell you, improvisation is oftentimes necessary.

Whereas many surveys only capture the before or the after, an as-built survey captures the during. It is created throughout the course of a project so it can report all of the crucial aforementioned information in full.

Why Are As-Built Surveys Needed?

Also known as a “record drawing,” an as-built survey tracks the progression of a building or other construction as it is built.

Contractors in the field frequently make modifications to architectural drawings because their drafters failed to take (or couldn’t have taken) certain aspects of the land into account. They may alternatively make modifications because certain materials were unavailable, or because they didn’t have enough time to complete the project as planned.

No matter the reasons they are made, change orders will make a finished property significantly different from the one that was conceived on paper. An as-built survey accounts for change orders so it can represent the property as accurately as possible. In doing so it greatly facilitates future improvements and maintenance at the property.

An as-built survey is especially useful during future maintenance because it provides an accurate record of the locations of underground features. For example, there is no better time to measure a sewer pipe’s length, width and location than the period of time separating its placement from its burial.

An as-built survey is equally invaluable for underwater features. A stormwater pond will become ineffective if sediment and debris are not periodically removed to restore its original depth – a detail that would not be omitted by a comprehensive as-built survey. For a more famous example, consider Disney World’s Seven Seas Lagoon. Without an accurate as-built survey, the theme park would have to waste money on excessive dredging in order to ensure safe traversal for its ferryboats.

Larger and more complex projects may necessitate the creation of multiple as-built surveys. They will demonstrate that various phases of the project meet critical specifications for elevation and layout before construction can safely proceed to the next step.

What Information Does an As-Built Survey Include?

An as-built survey contains several details which could prove of great value to the property owner in the near or distant future, including:

  • Elevations
  • Property dimensions
  • Locations of roads
  • Locations of sewers
  • Locations of structures
  • Locations of swales and ditches
  • Locations of underground utilities

The form an as-built survey takes depends on the client’s needs. A complex project’s as-built surveys can appear as multiple overlays that facilitate visualization of the project’s progress. An as-built survey can appear just like the original plan, but with key changes added in red. Some clients also require CADD files in addition to hard copies of their as-built surveys.

No matter your project’s timeline or complexity, Compass Consultants is available to ensure its as-built survey is completely accurate and delivered in precise accordance with your specifications and timeline. Please contact our land surveying company in Perham, MN today to get started!

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