The Nature of a Boundary Survey

In conducting a boundary survey, we develop evidence to support a conclusion as to the extent of interests in land on the surface of the earth. These interests usually derive originally from sovereign governments. Here in Arizona, the federal government usually surveyed and monumented the boundaries of land prior to sale to the public. Hence, in general, the boundaries of property, here in Arizona, usually depend upon the location of physical monuments.

Most parcels of land derive from some parent parcel originally patented into private ownership. Additionally, the ownership of most parcels has most likely been transferred several times since it was originally patented. The sequential dividing and transfer of land parcels leads to problems of overlaps and gaps.

So, in conducting any boundary survey, no matter how seemingly simple, many potential issues arise: What are the controlling monuments? Are there any conflicts between the land description of the instant property and the adjoiner, such as overlaps or gaps?  In addition, the Registered Land Surveyor has a duty not only to his client, but to the adjoiner and to any land owner whose property lines may depend upon or be controlled by corners of the client’s property. The corner’s of his client’s property may be controlling corners for property several miles in each direction. In addition to the spatial extent of his duty, the Registered Land Surveyor also has a duty to the successors in interest to all of the currently-affected landowners, unto perpetuity. Hence, the purpose of a boundary survey is not only to faithfully reconstruct the boundary lines of the past, but to leave evidence for future surveyors to maintain the integrity and continuity of property lines.

The first step in any boundary survey is to research the record. This involves, at a minimum, researching the land description of the instant property, as well as that of adjoining parcels. In addition, we will research survey maps, both from governmental and private surveys. From this record evidence, we understand the legal description of the parcel of land, determine which physical monuments control the boundary location and see what other private and government surveyors have found or set as monuments.

The next step is to go to the field to develop physical evidence of boundary location, principally physical monuments. In general, we must measure to monuments beyond those of the instant parcel in order to verify that the monuments we need are in proper relation to surrounding monuments. For example, if the job is just to mark one line in a subdivision, 75 feet long, we will need to find the endpoints of that line. Even if we find the original monuments at the endpoints of the line, we then must measure the length of that line as well as measure to other monuments in the subdivision. This is to verify that the monuments we are using are still in their original positions and to bring to light any discrepancies between the physical monuments and the record.

After developing the field evidence, we then have to reconcile the positions of controlling physical monuments to the record description of the parcel. Measurements never perfectly match the record. This is especially important if we will be replacing any corners that are missing.

After we reconcile differences between the location of controlling monuments and the record, we will mark our conclusions as to the boundary location per the client’s request. This may be flagging existing corners, setting points on a property line or setting missing corners. If we set a monument in the field, we are required to put our license number on it and file a Record of Survey map with the county.