How ALTA Surveys Protect New Developments from Land Use Issues

Buying a commercial property to develop can be an excellent way to reap profits for decades to come. Whether you plan to build and sell or are in it for the long haul, you probably want to take every step possible to protect your investment. Lenders feel the same way, which is why they usually require an ALTA (American Land Title Association) survey before purchasing commercial property. But what exactly is an ALTA survey? And how can it save you from buying land you can't actually use?

Encroaching Boundaries

If you're looking at an undeveloped property surrounded by buildings, there's a good chance the land has suffered a boundary encroachment. Encroachments occur when improvements to one property cross boundary lines into another. Your surveyor may, for instance, find that a neighbor has built a fence that is technically on your potential property.

What can be done when this happens? You may be able to work out a deal with the other property owner, such as granting an easement or having the structure removed. But in cases where compromise is not so easy, catching the problem before signing can save you from learning about it too late.


Easements grant an entity that doesn't own a piece of property the right to use or travel through it. For example, properties without road access must sign easement agreements with their neighbor to reach the land. Public utility companies also use them to access their infrastructure. Wherever an easement exists, you may not be able to develop in a way that blocks the agreement. An ALTA surveyor carefully checks public records on the property to learn about previous easements, if any, and assess their impact on development.

Setback Violations

If the property you're buying already has some improvements like buildings or utilities, an ALTA survey will examine these features for setback violations. Setback requirements set a minimum distance between buildings and their property lines. This prevents property owners from building right on top of each other, protecting the safety and privacy of all involved. Checking and mapping setback zones shows where you can actually build. And, if a setback violation already exists, you'll need to decide if fixing it is worth the cost.

In this way, ALTA surveyors protect both buyers and lenders from unpleasant surprises after a purchase. Even if your lender doesn't require an in-depth survey, doing so can save you time, cash, and legal headaches in the future. Contact an ALTA surveying service near you today to learn more about the process and how you can sign closing documents with true peace of mind.