What does it mean if you see a land surveyor on your property? Should you be concerned?
So, you've poured your first cup of coffee. You're about to sit down to enjoy it when you open the blinds and there's someone standing in your yard with some kind of camera-looking thing on a tripod. Your first thought is, "What the heck is going on NOW?!" Understandable, but should you be alarmed?
Well, before you dial '9-1-1' or prepare to stand your ground, there is a bit of background you should know. First, if it's a surprise to see them there, you might be justified to be annoyed. Land surveyors do have a right to enter your property, but, in some instances, you should be notified in advance. Here are the details about the current regulations from Iowa Code Chapter 354, Section 354.4A:
A land surveyor may enter public or private land or water in the state only to occupy, locate, relocate, install, or replace survey monuments, to locate boundaries, rights-of-way, and easements, to determine geodetic positions, and to make surveys and maps and may carry with them their customary equipment and vehicles. A surveyor may not enter buildings or other structures located on the land. Entry under the right granted in this section shall not constitute trespass, and land surveyors shall not be liable to arrest or a civil action by reason of the entry.
Land surveyors shall announce and identify themselves and their intentions before entering upon private property. A land surveyor shall provide written notice to the landowner, or the person who occupies the land as a tenant or lessee, not less than seven days prior to the entry. The notice shall be sent by ordinary mail, postmarked not less than seven days prior to the entry, or delivered personally. A mailing is deemed sufficient if the surveyor mails the required notice to the address of the landowner as contained in the property tax records. For civil liability purposes, receipt of this notice shall not be considered consent. This notice is not required for a survey along previously surveyed boundaries within a platted subdivision accepted or recorded by the federal government or an official plat as defined in section 354.2, subsection 12.
The written notice of the pending survey shall contain all of the following:
1. The identity of the party for whom the survey is being performed and the purpose for which the survey will be
2. The employer of the surveyor.
3. The identity of the surveyor.
4. The dates the land will be entered; the time, location, and timetable for such entry; the estimated completion
date; and the estimated number of entries that will be required.
If you haven't received notice, you probably live in an established subdivision with recorded plats. In that instance, the survey is simply to determine the position of existing boundaries in physical space and a licensed surveyor (or someone working under the supervision of a licensed surveyor) is not required to notify prior to entry. The fact is, however, that most surveyors, including MMS, will pay you the courtesy of announcing their presence and explaining what they are doing when they arrive.
The most important thing to understand is that, regardless of who is paying the bill, the surveyor is only there to confirm and identify established legal boundaries. Your neighbor cannot use a survey to stake a claim to property they do not own. This is not simply a matter of ethics: it is codified in Iowa law. If a surveyor is there, the person requesting the survey is unclear where the property boundaries are. They may be planning to erect a fence, do some landscaping, build an addition (with a long string of other potential complications attached), or simply ensure that everyone is keeping their activities on land they own or are legally authorized to occupy. This protects each resident's rights equally.
Another responsibility is to repair any damage done, accidental or otherwise. You should know that it is common for the surveyor to dig in small areas to find existing permanent monuments and/or markers. They often get buried over time and may not be obvious. A reputable surveyor will leave you with contact information you can use if you have an questions or issues after the survey is complete.
MMS Consultants, Inc. provides professional civil engineering and land surveying services — from simple property surveys to complete design and construction management. Since 1975, the firm has successfully completed nearly 40,000 municipal improvement and private land development projects throughout Eastern Iowa.
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