Long-standing survey problems create the boundary disputes of today
My name is Ryan Savage. I am a professional land surveyor and obtained my license Feb. 2, 1993. I worked for another engineering firm from 1985 until 2005 at which time my brother and I started Savage Surveying. In 2016 we brought on a partner and changed the company name to Savage Albrecht Engineering. I have been working in the survey field for over 41 years. And I was appointed as the Sanpete County Surveyor in 2005.
Suzanne Dean, Publisher of the Sanpete Messenger asked me to write an article on what property owners can do to avoid or resolve boundary issues, and what the state and county are doing to help make sure all professional surveys are based on the same reference points.
First I will tackle “what the state and county are doing to help make sure all professional surveys are based on the same reference points and produce the same results”. First there are several different types of surveys and different types of control used for each type of survey.
Lock and Block survey
The first type of survey is Lot and Block, this survey is located in the lot and block system of towns and cities. The control used for this survey is either block monuments that have been established by the town or city. Unfortunately none of the small towns and cities in Sanpete County have spent the money to install these monuments. In cases where there are no block monuments the surveyor uses the existing roadways, fence lines and other boundary information to determine the block boundaries and then the interior deed lines of the block.
This means that the surveyor has to use his experience to make the decisions about boundary locations. Unfortunately we all look at the evidence differently and will almost always make different decisions, but it has been my experience that it will only differ by a foot or two.
Meets and Bounds survey
The second type of survey is meets and bounds, which are typically controlled by section corner surveys. These surveys are typically located outside of incorporated boundaries. The control for these surveys is the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), which is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
In the late 1800s the Department of Interior was tasked with the job of surveying and setting section corners. The BLM is still responsible for setting and maintain the section corners which help determine federal boundaries.
It is the responsibility of each county to maintain and establish corners that consist of private property.
Most counties do not have the funds to meet the responsibility to maintain and establish corners, so the State has set up a grant system to help with this cost. The grants for the County PLSS Monument Preservation Protection and Rehabilitation Projects comes from the Monument Replacement and Restoration Committee.
Each county has to submit and grant application showing the location of section corners that are intended to be preserved or restored. The committee then determines if and how much money will be awarded to the county.
Corners need to be preserved or restored
Sanpete County has been very proactive in applying for these grants and has preserved or restored many of the corners located in the private property areas of the county. However there are still a lot of corners that need to be preserved or restored.
There are a few problems with the section corners survey system. First during the late 1800s the Department of Interior hired a surveyor by the name of Charles Mogo to complete the section corner work in most of Sanpete County and Sevier County. It has been determined that Mogo did most of his surveying while sitting in camp and never really did any actual survey work. The farmers and first settlers did the best they could do and typically established a point near what was thought to be a section corner, then all fence lines in that area were laid out from that point.
Now that we have actual section corners and quarter corners, we can determine where a deed boundary should be located, but in most cases they will not line up with the fence lines that were laid out from the “approximate section corner from the late 1800s.”
The second problem with the section corner survey system is that since there were no actual section corners established, most of the early deeds were written by someone sitting at a desk assuming a 5280 foot square section. Because almost all sections are not 5280 feet square, even though Mogo’s section plats showed them that way, all of the deeds written this way will have errors.
As you can see there are many problems contributing to the fence line vs deed line problem, these problems have been in existence since the late 1800s and we will continue to face them.
How to resolve boundary issues
Now let’s talk about “what property owners can do to avoid or resolve boundary issues”.
The first thing I will state is that it is always in your best interest to have a boundary survey completed before buying any property. If there is a boundary issue it is always better to know going in to the purchase than it is finding out after you have signed on the dotted line. If you know there are problems in advance you can get help clearing up the problems before the purchase is complete.
There are several ways to resolve boundary issues. The one that usually works the best is a boundary line agreement, which is used when there is an established boundary line like an existing fence line. This agreement generally states that both parties agree that the fence line is the boundary line and that they give up all rights to the property, that they may have any rights to, on the other side of the fence.
Utah State Code 57-1-45-2-vi states: a statement citing the file number of a record of a survey map, as defined in Sections 10-9a-103 and 17-27a-103, that the parties prepare and file, in accordance with Section 17-23-17, in conjunction with the boundary line agreement; and as you can see number (vi) requires a survey to be completed and a record of survey plat to be filed with the County Recorder.
A quit claim deed can be used to describe any property between an existing boundary line and the deed line. This would then be deeded to the property owner that has physical possession of the property.
There are laws in place to protect property rights, some of these are:
Long standing markers
The Boundary by Acquiescence theory provides that a long-standing marker indicating where property owners understand a boundary to be located becomes the actual boundary, even if a survey places it elsewhere. It is not necessary that the owners formally agree that the monument marks the property boundary; acceptance or acquiescence is sufficient.
This can be shown by the actions of the property owners regarding the location of the boundary. The disputed property must be actually occupied or used. Merely claiming ownership is not sufficient.
A Boundary by Agreement honors verbal or unrecorded agreements made to settle a property boundary. In order to claim a boundary by agreement, the following elements must be shown:
An agreement between adjoining land owners;
Settling a boundary line that is uncertain or in dispute;
A showing that injury would occur if the agreement were not upheld.
In order to bind successor owners to the same agreement, it must be shown that the agreed-upon boundary was marked or clearly identified so that a purchaser would be on notice of the boundary’s location.
If you question, get a new survey
In closing please let me sum up this article. The boundary problems are a result of a combination of the original section corners not being established and deeds being written with incorrect information.
It is always in your best interest to get a survey completed before purchasing property.
This problem is not going to be fixed over night, but as more surveys are completed and boundary line agreements are recorded, eventually the problems will be resolved.
If you find yourself in a boundary dispute, please remember after all of the court costs, attorney fees and hurt feelings, when it’s all said and done you will still be neighbors. It is always better to be able to look across your fence, shake hands and be neighborly.