What do an easement, encroachment and a real estate survey have in common?

Sonia Figueroa
Sonia Figueroa
Published on November 30, 2018

First and foremost there are different types of surveys such as land, lot, topographic, subdivision, condo, spot and boundary. In this blog post, we will be talking about the boundary survey.

The boundary survey is the one most commonly used in real estate. This is where a surveyor will come onto the property and use special equipment such as a theodolite. The theodolite is an instrument with a rotating telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. The surveyor will place survey markers in the corners of the property to set the boundaries. Once the surveyor locates the exact points, he will then create a map that looks like a blueprint of what legally belongs to that land.

In conjunction with using his/her instruments, the surveyor also uses a legal description of the property that is normally given by the title company or the archives that are held in public record for that particular county or state.

A legal description identifies where the property is located, its boundaries, and other pertinent legal information.

Thomas Jefferson came up with the Land Ordinance of 1785, which was the basis for the Public Land Survey System where legal descriptions began. A surveyor from each state was appointed to start the description process.

Because most of Chicago has older homes, there are legal descriptions already created and a record of each with the county. Things do change; therefore a surveyor is important in case you have a new encroachment or easement that pops up.

What is an easement?

An easement allows you to cross over land that doesn’t belong to you.

Example: If you have a driveway and your neighbor needs to cross over it to reach their home, this is called an easement. (See pic below.)

There are several types of easements—

This picture depicts an easement appurtenant, which is an easement that benefits one parcel of land, known as the dominant tenement, to the detriment of another parcel of land, known as the servient tenement.

An easement in gross is the most common ones that you will see on a survey if it applies it benefit the person or entity so if a utility company wants to put their transformer on your land the owner will benefit from that as long as it’s in writing. However it doesn’t transfer over if the property is sold.

An easement in gross is the most common one that you will see on a survey. It benefits the person or entity, so if a utility company wants to put their transformer on your land, you, the owner, will benefit from that as long as it’s in writing. However, the agreement doesn’t transfer over to the new owner if the property is sold.

The best way to explain an easement in gross is the owner gives up the right to his/her land without even knowing it. This is also known as “adverse possession.”

Example: If you have a big parcel of land and you unknowingly put up a fence in the wrong section, and some squatters come along and pitch a tent, they can be rightful owners of that other section of your land. Statute of limitations does apply to this type of easement.

On a survey, you will also find encroachment.

What is an encroachment?

An encroachment is intruding on someone’s property. It’s similar to a form of trespassing. For example, if you are building a fence on your neighbor’s property, you are creating an encroachment. Before you create problems with your neighbor, make sure you look at a boundary survey to see what legally belongs to you.

If you really need to build a fence on your neighbor’s property, make sure to have a one-on-one conversation before you start. Otherwise it can be a costly battle. You will have to pay for legal fees and court costs.

How much does a survey cost?

If you are looking to do an individual survey of your home, typical costs are between $500 and $600. Of course, the actual cost will depend on the survey company. If you are selling a home, it is the responsibility of the homeowner to pay for this unless the home is being sold as-is or you’re buying a foreclosure but the bank will not provide you with a survey. Each home-buying and -selling transaction is different. I have seen some sellers and buyers agree to the buyer paying for a survey, but that is on a case-by-case basis.

Remember, do not confuse the bank appraisal with a survey. Below is what a survey looks like. I also created a quick video with some of the items mentioned above.

What does all of this have in common with a real estate survey?

Well an encroachment and an easement will always be on the survey if it applies

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