Readers comment on surveying videos and landownership laws.

Editor's Note
December 2003

I read [the] December 2003 column with great amusement. The idea that an eight-minute video would threaten the security of land surveyors is indeed humorous. Whatever other differences Mr. Feldbusch and I may have, I vehemently agree with him that the majority of surveyors are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to marketing and business practices. The notion that surveyors should dress in sackcloth and beat themselves before advertising or promoting their profession and/or business is neolithic clap-trap. I say good for Mr. Feldbusch, and good luck to all the others in their race to catch up.

Dwight R. Schofield, PS

I must take issue with your comment in this [editorial] about the surveyor from Indiana being "onto something," even if you were writing tongue in cheek. Are you kidding? An advertisement in a trade journal suggesting that anyone can survey? The word would be out all right, the word that surveying is easy and requires no knowledge other than what you can learn in an eight-minute video. Is that really the word we want out?

Maybe we have public relations backward, but Oklahoma professional surveyors have learned that if we want our message out, we have to get out of the office and the field, and meet with attorneys, title insurance agents and realtors face to face. But unlike our surveying brother from Indiana, we haven't figured out how to directly profit from our efforts other than the satisfaction of raising the professional awareness of land surveying.

Just last week one of our party chiefs and I put on a land surveying presentation complete with a total station, pin finder and shovel for about 40 title insurance agents. I guess surveying is a lot easier in Indiana than it is in Oklahoma because it took us two hours to explain how difficult our job is: how many professional decisions have to be made, how evidence is evaluated, what calculations are made and how final reports are drawn. We even told them about the 16 hours of examinations we have to pass before we can become registered and how many states require college degrees as a condition for registration. And we made this presentation for fun and for free.

I don't know if the Oklahoma approach is the best or not, but I do know that if our profession is going to survive, public relations must be as important to us as GPS and computer software. To put it mildly, an eight-minute, for-profit video showing how easy it is to survey does not raise the awareness of our profession in a positive manner.

Bruce A. Pitts, PLS

The editor responds:
My belief was that IF the series highlighted ALL facets of the profession (including necessary and varying educational and licensure issues, continuing education, technological skills, etc.), the videos COULD have potentially served to be beneficial for the profession. However, as of January, the videos will not be produced.

You put a very generous spin, in my opinion, on the "do-it-yourself" video by Mike Feldbusch. I am surprised you consider it a marketing tool. It appears to me to be no more than a thinly-veiled scheme to sell a product he is marketing rather than anything to do with "enlightening" the public on the role of the surveyor. I certainly have not seen the video but I can easily see that, with its title and what it purports to explain, how to find monuments, the general public may perceive this is what surveying is all about. After all, what is surveying if not "just finding little metal things and making a little drawing"? To me, his comment that he is "hoping, in a small way, that [the video will help] the public to become more aware of what surveyors do" is laughable. I cannot think of any how-to video adding anything to any profession, much less surveying. Can a video on drawing lines make someone an architect or engineer? If anything, I think this will further cloud what the role of a surveyor is by necessarily using simplistic terms to explain what we do. And he wants to create a video on atypical lots?

Ric Vazquez

A Case of Give and Take
January 2004

It is important that all surveyors who do boundary surveys be familiar with the laws relating to adverse possession. Your article by D. Ian Wilson, LS, is a useful and comprehensive article giving the basics for understanding these laws.

Two comments might be helpful. The first relates to acquiring marketable title through adverse possession. It is a common misconception that adverse possession after so many years ripens into good title. Surveyors will sometimes show on a map the area claimed adversely as being part of the client's land based on that assumption. It should be strongly stressed that until the claim has been decided in court, the adverse claim is only a claim no matter how well founded it is. The client could have built a concrete block house on the adversely claimed area and lived in it for 40 years. It is still only a claim even though well founded. It has to be adjudicated in court. And in court the client still might lose the case.

The second comment relates to limitations on adverse claims. To the best of my knowledge no private individual can legally claim land adversely against the U.S. government. So if there is a vacant strip of land between two land owners that is not covered by either of their deeds, and one owner claims it by adverse possession, the land may still belong to the state, and therefore could not be rightfully claimed adversely against the state by the land owner.

This brings up a good puzzle. Suppose that in your surveying work you discover a 20-acre tract of land that does not appear to be covered by any deed on record. You then acquire a quitclaim deed covering the land from a nearby landowner. You use the land, mark the boundaries of it, put up "No Trespassing" signs along the boundaries and fulfill the statutory requirements relating to adverse possession by color of title. The next step would be to bring a court action against the former owner. But if you knew who the former owner was you would not claim the land. If you can prove that there is no deed on record covering the land then you might conclude that the state owns the land. But perhaps the state sold the land using a poorly drawn description. To prove that the state has or has not sold the land may be an impossible task.

In North Carolina in this situation you could purchase the land from the state (hoping that no one shows up later with an older state grant that somehow covers the area), or else you have to invent a previous owner and bring a court action against that person somehow. Either way it is risky.

North Carolina has another useful law relating to possession of land whether adversely or otherwise. This is the Real Property Marketable Title Act. This law provides that if a person has a recorded title to a tract of land for 30 or more years with no objections to such ownership that person will be considered to have a marketable title to the land (with several exceptions).

The laws relating to land ownership are lengthy and often complex. But they are interesting. Every surveyor can benefit by learning more about them.

Bill Leonard
North Carolina