A party can obtain a property survey from her local city or county government office that maintains land records. The name of the office varies. For example, in San Francisco, the correct office is the County Assessor-Recorder; in Milwaukee, the correct office is the Milwaukee Permit & Development Center. A property survey may be available from an online database, or from computer terminals at the assessor's office or in paper form in the office’s archives.
The office holding the survey may charge a fee to search for and copy the property survey. Sometimes a property survey is contained in another document, such as an application for a building permit, a will, a deed or a contract.
Read More: How to Find a Property Map
What Is a Property Survey?
A property survey is a document that a licensed surveyor has created to show the boundaries and rights of way on a piece of property. It should look like a detailed sketch of the property and note the easements and zoning of the parcel and the property's legal history.
Purpose of a Property Survey
A mortgage company may require a property survey to verify that the property is worth the amount of money provided in the loan. Neighbors may utilize a property survey to determine who owns or has rights to cross certain portions of the land. A seller should have a property survey to know what she will convey in the sale. An owner who wants to build on the property should have a property survey to be aware of any complications that may arise.
What Information Do I Need?
A party should have the property address or parcel ID, the name of the document for which he is searching, the document number, the document type and the assessor’s parcel number (APN). The APN may be the assessor’s block and lot number.
Who Else Has a Property Survey?
The individuals that facilitated the sale of the property should be able to provide a party with a property survey. These include the seller, real estate agent, lender, title company, attorney and surveyor. A county’s engineering department, building inspector, map room or tax assessor’s office may have a property survey. If a party lives in a city, the city records office may have the document.
A tax assessor may have a property survey if the property is a city lot because the assessor looks at tax maps to find the tax value of a property.
When Records Are Not Current
Whether or not a survey on file with a government office is current depends on state law. Some states, such as California, do not require owners to perform a new survey with every change of ownership. If a property survey is outdated, a party may need to commission a new survey to resolve a dispute.
When There Is No Property Survey
When there is no property survey, a county recorder may have a plat map. A plat map shows a tract of land subdivided into plots. A developer usually creates a plat map before building a subdivision or a neighborhood. A plat map can be used to determine property lines.
Read More: How to Read Land Survey Plats
Evidence Showing a Property Survey Exists
A surveyor uses physical markers to show the boundaries on a parcel. A party can walk a parcel to look at what markers exist to indicate a survey has taken place. In newer properties, stakes, pipes, markings on concrete and masonry nails in asphalt indicate a surveyor has done a property survey.
In older properties, fences, trees and buildings may be the markers. When these objects or landmarks no longer exist, a property survey that refers to them may be outdated.
Read More: How to Find a Legal Property Description
- City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: How to Find a Property Survey
- New York City Department of Finance: Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS)
- King County, Washington: Recorder's Office
- San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder: Records Search
- County of Fresno, California: Surveyor's Office
- U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: General Land Office Records
- University of Arkansas, University Libraries, Research Guides: Maps
- Legal Beagle: How to Read Land Survey Plats
- Legal Beagle: How to Find a Property Map
- Legal Beagle: How to Find a Legal Property Description
- Legal Beagle: How to Find Easement Information on a Property
- Legal Beagle: What Does Area Zoned C-2 Mean?
- Legal Beagle: How to Find a Street Address by Its APN Number
- Some states publish survey information online. Visit the Public Land Survey System website (see Resources) to get a better understanding of how surveys on public lands are organized and maintained.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.