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What is a current survey? – Why should anybody care?

  • 3 min read

I’ve been wrestling with the question of “What is a current survey?” for quite some time. Why, you may ask, am I wasting time and energy worrying about such an arcane matter?

In my capacity as a Municipal Engineer and Construction Official, I’ve been called upon to render judgments about the adequacy of land surveys to be used for proposed land developments or construction projects. If the property owner uses a recent survey, prepared by a licensed New Jersey Professional Land Surveyor, engaged for the project, things generally run smoothly. Sometimes, the property owner tries to save money by using an old survey. Then the confusion starts.

The property survey becomes the basis for the design of a new building project. It shows the size, shape, and contour of the property as well as existing features that are located on the lot and sometimes overhead or underground. The survey may also show evidence of legal encumbrances on the property such as rights of way, easements or building setback lines. These conditions change over time.

Design of buildings and site improvements should be based on accurate, up to date plans of the existing conditions. How old a survey is too old? One year? Five years? Twenty five years. What if the survey was prepared for someone other than the current property owner? Is that OK? Is it acceptable if the surveyor who performed the work is no longer licensed, or is dead? Who gets to determine if the old survey accurately depicts site conditions at the time the permit application is filed?

In most cases, the public official asked to review the survey will not be a licensed professional land surveyor. It’s likely to be a zoning officer, municipal engineer or construction official. I believe that they should be given guidelines to follow for making this determination. While some municipalities have enacted such rules, I’ve not been able to locate them in any state statute or regulation.

New Jersey law provides for licensing of professionals such as architects, attorneys, code officials, engineers and land surveyors to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. These licensees have shown that they possess specialized knowledge to assist the public with complicated real property and construction issues. Their designs and legal guidance should be based upon current, accurate land surveys.

To kick off the discussion, I’d suggest that a survey submitted for a building permit, subdivision or site plan should be no more than one year old. It must have been performed for the current applicant or property owner by a Professional Land Surveyor currently licensed in the State of New Jersey.

What do you think? Have you encountered problems with outdated surveys being submitted to your office? Have you experienced problems because of the use of bad data?

Please let me know.


The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

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