As a property owner, you appear to have a need for the services of a land surveyor. So you make the call and ask for a survey. Now, you should always indicate why you think you need or want a survey. Not everyone has the same needs and for most, a land surveyor’s services are seldom called upon but when the call is made it is sometimes as a result of conflict. The surveyor provides an unbiased service in positioning a boundary and must take into consideration all forms of evidence which might well involve speaking to the neighbour. Boundary location is just one of the many services offered by today’s surveyor.
So what kind of calls does the surveyor get? “Can I subdivide my property”? “Where can I build a fence”? “What can be done when a survey marker mysteriously goes missing”? Or, “a new survey marker was placed on my property while I was at work and I want it removed”. Well… the conversations can be very interesting and every property has its own unique history and ownership.
The land surveyor, however, is sometimes accused of favouring his/her client whenever an adjacent owner appears to be encroached upon as a result of a survey. That appears to be the perception when a boundary survey is being questioned. This generally is the result of little or no communication with adjacent owners, or even the client, to explain the rationale behind placing markers. Parole or verbal evidence should also never be ruled out. Not that it might change the location of a corner marker, but at least there is a courtesy involved, which tends to soften the impression of bias. It should be noted that boundary lines separate ownership and for that reason are a shared responsibility with respect to property rights.
“I just want what’s in my deed” is the battle cry and, in some situations, more than what is in the deed. Does the land surveyor comply and survey the deed description, the described occupation or review the evidence with those involved and then offer an opinion as to the extent of title? Okay then, what is the land surveyor’s job? According to the Land Surveyors Act, sec, 2(j), the definition of “professional land surveying” means the advising on, the reporting on, the supervising of, and the conducting of surveys to determine the horizontal and vertical position of any point and the direction of any line required to control, establish, locate, define, or describe the extent or limitations of title. As a professional, the land surveyor provides an opinion on extent of title (limits of ownership) and not a guarantee. Both the land surveyor and client too often confuse these two terms, thinking that they mean the same.
The land surveyor’s opinion can always be challenged and it often is. It can only be hoped that any survey opinion is based on the best evidence that would be supported by documentation, statute law and case law. When there is ambiguity, and there often is, a report outlining possible scenarios based on the available evidence is advisable. The report can offer an opinion as to the most likely scenario that the land surveyor would support but, without mutual discussion or agreement, placing a marker may very well create conflict where none previously existed.
If there is a boundary dispute between neighbours, it is quite possible that it resulted over an unrelated confrontation of some sort or a misunderstanding of boundary evidence. Just remember that the land surveyor may be hired by one owner but has an equal responsibility to all who share the boundary.
Fred Hutchinson has been the Executive Director of the Association of Nova Scotia Land Surveyors since 1999 and also is a Past President of the Association. Mr. Hutchinson was licensed in 1971, employed by municipal government for nearly six years and spent over twenty-two years in private practice.