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SAN FRANCISCO CHAPTER CLSA

San Francisco Surveying FAQ

WHAT IS A PROFESSIONAL LAND SURVEYOR?  

A professional land surveyor is licensed by the state of California to perform surveying, this authorization includes civil engineers licensed prior to 1982.  The professional land surveyor renders a highly technical and complex service that is the foundation of the locating and development of property.

A professional land surveyor can:

Locate property boundaries.

Locate buildings/fences, utilities and other improvements within the property boundaries.

Create “topographic” maps that will show the contours of and existing improvements on land for design purposes.

Layout control for the construction of buildings, utilities, roadways.

Create maps required for the subdivision of property.

Create maps that locate and fix the location of property boundaries.

WHY DO I NEED A SURVEYOR?

If you are subdividing property (the act of dividing a property into smaller parcels for the purposes of sale) you will need to file a “Subdivision Map” (a Parcel or Final Map) for recordation with the County Recorder. Converting an existing residential or commercial building into condominium units also requires a subdivision map to be recorded.  Only a professional land surveyor is authorized to create subdivision maps.       

If you are planning to construct: a professional land surveyor will create a map that shows the physical characteristics of the land, existing improvements, and existing utilities within or near your property.   This “topographic map” will be used by architects, engineers, and other professionals as the basis for the design of the proposed project.   An accurate topographic map prepared by a professional land surveyor is one of the first and most critical steps in the design phase of any construction project.

If you want to know where your boundary lines are: a boundary survey will locate boundary lines and the position of buildings, fences and other improvements in relation to boundary lines.  The boundary survey and the marking of the corners may trigger the requirement to prepare and record a map.  Only a professional land surveyor is authorized by law to interpret the deed for your parcel, reach an opinion as to the location of the boundaries on the ground, mark the boundary lines or corners, and prepare and file the map with the County Recorder.  

HOW DO I FIND THE SURVEYOR RIGHT FOR ME?

If your property is located within San Francisco, you should consider hiring only a professional land surveyor, or a civil engineer licensed before 1982, that has surveying  experience in San Francisco.  Surveying in San Francisco is unique: The requirements for locating property are unlike any place else in California, and your surveyor needs to be aware of the local practices. Request copies of maps that they have recorded in San Francisco. Also, ask for references from previous clients.

HOW DO I LOCATE THE BOUNDARY OF MY PROPERTY?

The first step in locating a boundary is to provide the deed obtained when the property was conveyed to the present owner.  A professional land surveyor or a civil engineer licensed before 1982 is authorized by law to interpret the legal description of the property boundary in the deed, and to locate that boundary on the ground.  If the property is located in San Francisco, it is strongly recommended that you hire a professional land surveyor that has surveying experience in San Francisco.  San Francisco has a unique practice for establishing property boundaries, unlike any other place in California.  You should seek a professional land surveyor that has experience in resolving boundaries and submitting survey maps in San Francisco.  When interviewing land surveyors, ask for references from previous clients, request example of their maps recorded in San Francisco.   

WHAT IS A RECORD OF SURVEY?

In the process of locating a boundary by a field survey (locating physical evidence in the field with measuring instruments), the professional  land surveyor may find that the recorded evidence of the boundary such as maps and deeds is in discrepancy with what has been located in the field.  If the discrepancy is significant, this is called a “material discrepancy” and California law requires that the surveyor record a map called a “Record of Survey”.

Also, if the property being surveyed was created by a deed only (common in San Francisco), and not reflected on any previously recorded map, the law requires that the land surveyor record a Record of Survey.  For any boundary location survey requiring a Record of Survey it is strongly recommended that you seek out a professional land surveyor or a civil engineer licensed prior to 1982 that has experience in resolving boundaries and submitting survey maps in San Francisco.  When interviewing land surveyors, ask for references from previous clients, request example of their maps recorded in San Francisco.     

WHAT IS AN EASEMENT?

An easement is the right to do something over the land of another.  If Owner A has an easement over Parcel B for ingress and egress, then Parcel A is the benefitted parcel, and Parcel B is the burdened parcel.  Easements are often created for the benefit of the adjoining owners, which can result in difficulties if the terms of the easement are not understood.  

Another common type of easement is a utility easement, which allows some type of utility to occupy the property, and typically includes the right to access the easement area for construction or maintenance of the utility.  There are also easements that preclude certain activities, an example would be an easement that creates a “no-build” zone (sometimes referred to as an Air and Light easement) over a portion of a property which forbids construction within the defined area.

I NEED TO CREATE AN EASEMENT

An easement can be granted by a document that contains the names of the grantor and the grantee and the operative words of conveyance.  The purpose should be stated: an easement agreement indicating specifically the terms of the easement is sometimes used instead of a deed, and can avoid future problems resulting from a misunderstanding of the terms of the easement.  The grant must also contain a legal description of the easement, and the land that is the subject of the easement with sufficient clearness to locate the easement.  This description is called a “legal description”, and can only be written by a professional land surveyor or a civil engineer licensed before 1982.

WHO OWNS THE FENCE?

People spend a lot of time and money answering this question.  Sometimes a fence is just a fence, built to keep something in, or to keep something out, and constructed without knowledge of the location of the boundary.  A boundary survey performed by a licensed land surveyor will locate the property line and show the location of the fence in relation to that property line.  Who owns the fence is a matter of law and outside the authorized practice of the land surveyor.  However, knowing the location of the property line and the location of the fence will be relevant to resolving the question regarding the ownership of the fence.   

Note: The Civil Code of California, section 841 provides for a procedure for notifying adjoining owners of the intent to erect a fence.  

DOES THE ASSESSOR MAP SHOW MY PROPERTY?  IS THE ASSESSOR MAP A RECORDED MAP?

The Assessor’s Map was created for the purpose of determining the property that is subject to property taxation…only.  The Assessor’s Map is not a “RECORDED” map, and does not locate the boundary of your property.  The Assessors Map or the Assessor’s Parcel Number CANNOT be used for a legal description to locate or to convey property.

THE ASSESSOR MAP SHOWS ONLY ONE PARCEL, BUT MY DEED INDICATES TWO PARCELS

The Assessor’s Map was created for the purpose of determining the property that is subject to property taxation, only.  Previously, in San Francisco, the owner of 2 or more adjoining legal parcels would request a single tax assessment from the Assessor.  The Assessor would assign a single Parcel Number over multiple legal parcels.  This act did not merge the underlying legal parcels.  This practice has been discontinued.

THE ASSESSOR MAP SHOWS TWO (OR MORE) PARCELS, BUT MY DEED INDICATES ONLY ONE PARCEL.

The Assessor’s Map was created for the purpose of determining the property that is subject to property taxation, only. Previously, in San Francisco, the owner of a single legal parcel could request a multiple tax assessments over a single legal parcel from the Assessor.  The Assessor would then assign multiple Parcel Numbers over the single legal parcel.  This act did not subdivide the underlying legal parcel.  This practice has been discontinued.   

WHAT IS A LOT LINE ADJUSTMENT?

A Lot Line Adjustment allows for the moving or elimination of some or all lot lines for up to 4 adjoining parcels.  A common Lot Line Adjustment application is to remove lot lines and “merge” several parcels into a single parcel.  A Lot Line Adjustment is also used to move a property line that is located within a building, or to move property lines to accommodate new construction.  The Lot Line application requires a legal description of the proposed parcels, which can only be written by a professional land surveyor or a civil engineer licensed before 1982.  The Lot Line Adjustment application must be reviewed by City Planning Dept., and the proposed lots will be required to conform to the Planning and Building Codes.  Once the Lot Line Adjustment is approved and recorded by the City and County Surveyor, deeds containing the approved legal descriptions must be recorded by the property owners to complete the process.


c/o Jared Serpico, Secretary

255 Shoreline Dr Suite 200

Redwood City CA 94065

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