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ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys: Optional Table A item 20 – Offsite (Appurtenant) Easements

by Gary on October 1, 2014

When an off-site easement appears as an insured parcel in schedule A of a title commitment,  that means it is an ‘appurtenant easement’ providing benefit to the fee parcel which is also being insured.  Appurtenant easements are of great interest and concern to lenders and buyers of properties when ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys are being performed because they provide the legal means by which access, parking or utilities serve the benefitted property (easements can serve myriad other purposes, but those are the most common when it comes to commercial property).

Appurtenant easements attach to the property which they benefit (called the ‘dominant estate’), yet exist over and across someone else’s property (called the ‘servient estate’).

Because the utilities serving a property often reach that property through appurtenant easements across someone else’s land, lenders and buyers may wish to have their ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey provide detail on the physical condition of those easements.  Likewise, it is not all unusual that primary or secondary access to a property is by virtue of an appurtenant access or ingress/egress easement, and obviously, conditions associated with those easements can be critical. 

It is one thing when access and/or utility easements are currently in use, but it is another thing entirely when those easements have not yet been exercised. The size, shape and physical condition of an easement is an important design consideration.  Does the servient owner have fences or other improvements with the easement areas?  If so, the owner of the easement may have to accommodate them, at least to some extent.  To quote from the 1943 decision in a South Carolina Supreme Court case, “The right of the easement owner and the right of the landowner are not absolute, irrelative and uncontrolled, but are so limited, each by the other, that there may be a due and reasonable enjoyment of both.[1]

For all of these reasons, Table A of the 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys includes optional items 20a and 20b which require that the surveyor pay particular attention to off-site easements.

Item 20a is an option whereby the surveyor essentially treats an off-site easement as if it were a fee parcel; the survey will not simply depict the geometry of the easement, but will actually include it as part of the physical survey.  Clients need to keep in mind, however, that some off-site easements include large areas for reciprocal parking or access and surveying all of those areas can dramatically increase the cost of a survey.

Table A Item 20b requires that the surveyor set or find monuments at the corners of off-site easements.  Again, this can significantly increase the cost of a survey – particularly in some states where monumentation is not otherwise required – and may ultimately not be of immediate benefit.
Finally, because appurtenant easements involve property actually owned in fee by someone else, both items 20a and 20b may require that access for the surveyor to actually conduct the survey be arranged by the client.  All states do not provide statutory right of access for surveyors.

To summarize, Table A items 20a and 20b provide the means by which a client can obtain beneficial information about the physical condition of off-site easements on an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey, but a review of the cost/benefit may need to be undertaken depending on the nature of the easements.

[1] Hill v. Carolina Power & Light Co., 204 S.C. 83, 96, 28 S.E.2d 545, 549 (1943)