When Do I Need a Cadastral Survey?

Navigating property purchase and ownership usually requires a clear understanding of the boundaries of the land. While most properties come with detailed plans, these plans may be out of date, and things such as property boundaries tend to shift over time.

The answer to this dilemma is a cadastral survey. Cadastral surveying is the act of measuring, mapping and recording details about a parcel of land. This process is performed by a licensed surveyor with the tools and skills to accurately map your land.

If you are considering buying a property, developing your land, or having a dispute with your neighbour about boundaries, a cadastral survey can establish your legal rights and resolve conflicts.

In this article we’ll explore cadastral surveys in more detail to see what they are, when they’re needed, and why you should invest in a professional surveying service.

What is a Cadastral Survey?

A cadastral survey is a detailed survey that involves the measurement and marking out of land parcels for planning purposes. A cadastral survey is a comprehensive and systematic record of land ownership, boundaries, and land use.

The primary goal of cadastral surveys is to establish and document the legal boundaries of land, providing a basis for property ownership and land administration.

Cadastral surveys play a role in land management, taxation and town planning. The information gathered through surveys establishes an accurate record of a property that can be used in dozens of ways.

Key components of a cadastral survey may include:

  • Boundary determination – Accurately establishing the boundaries of a residential or commercial property.
  • Monumentation – Placing physical markers (such as wooden or metal stakes) that indicate the location of the boundary and other features of the land.
  • Documentation – Creating detailed plans that document the surveyed land. This documentation is typically submitted to the local government during the planning process.

Cadastral surveys are essential for maintaining up-to-date land information, aiding in land administration, development planning and property taxation. They are conducted by licensed surveyors and are typically required when purchasing a property, subdividing land, resolving boundary disputes or planning a development.

When Do I Need a Cadastral Survey?

You may need a cadastral survey in various situations, depending on your circumstances and local planning requirements. Here are some common scenarios where a cadastral survey is necessary:

  • Purchase or sale of land – Before buying or selling a piece of land, a cadastral survey can ensure you are aware of the exact boundaries and dimensions of the property. This may prevent disputes and legal issues related to the property in future.
  • Property subdivision – If you plan to divide a larger parcel of land into smaller lots, a cadastral survey will establish the boundaries of each new parcel and create accurate legal descriptions.
  • Development projects – Before undertaking any construction or development activities, a cadastral survey may be needed to confirm property boundaries, comply with zoning regulations and obtain necessary permits.
  • Disputes over boundaries – If there are disagreements regarding property boundaries between neighbours, a cadastral survey can help resolve these disputes by accurately determining true boundary lines.
  • Valuations and estate planning – When preparing for the distribution of assets as part of estate planning, a cadastral survey can be useful to precisely define property boundaries and assist in the equitable division of land among heirs.
  • Mortgage approvals – Lenders may require a cadastral survey as part of the mortgage application process to ensure the property’s boundaries are accurately defined. This also verifies the value of the land, which aids the lender in their risk calculations.
  • Town planning – Local councils often require cadastral surveys for land use planning purposes, especially when creating or updating zoning maps and comprehensive land use plans.

Specific situations requiring a cadastral survey can vary by jurisdiction. Local regulations will dictate when you do or don’t need a cadastral survey. We recommend contacting a licensed surveyor or speaking with a town planner to figure out the requirements in your area.

How is a Cadastral Survey Performed?

Cadastral surveys combine a mixture of field research and historical documentation.

As part of the process, your surveyor will access existing land information about the property. This is typically lodged with your local planning department. Old maps of the property can be years or decades out of date, but they form the basis of the research.

With old planning information in hand, the surveyor will visit your site to assess the property. They will compare the current site with the old plans and use measuring equipment to determine where the exact boundaries are. This is done in a myriad of ways, but modern surveying companies typically use:

  • GPS and satellite imagery
  • Drones with LiDAR and image sensors
  • Laser measures
  • Total stations

These tools help the surveyor to accurately mark boundaries.

Depending on the information you need, a surveyor may also note other features of the land, such as the location of structures and retaining walls, major vegetation and other items.

Surveyors are also responsible for researching whether the land is subject to any restrictions. Easements and covenants can prevent you from using part (or all) of your land in the way you intended. A surveyor can determine whether the land is subject to these restrictions. If a property is subject to a restriction such as a utilities easement, the surveyor can mark the location of the easement so that you don’t infringe the rights of the easement holder when building or developing.

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