Recently, while teaching an ethics course at a seminar, I was asked why I included double monumentation.

I did my best to explain that setting additional corners may not serve the best interests of the client and that these actions could expose the client to litigation and expense. Since the seminar, I have been reading all different sides of this issue and would like to propose that it may not only be an ethics issue but also a major business liability issue. Let’s consider the different methods surveyors use that result in double monumentation and how these practices lead to ethical and professional problems.

Staking the Deed

One school of thought is that surveyors should stake the deed, period. The problem with this theory is that the original work may have been done using equipment that was only capable of producing a closure of 1 part in 300. (This is all you can expect from an original compass and chain.)

When you go to stake this deed, you will be applying modern surveying technology at 1 part in 50,000, so you should not be surprised when the existing corners do not fit the deed. I knew one old surveyor who used to preach that if the original was run with a compass and chain, then the only correct way to retrace the survey was to use a compass and chain. You cannot use one set of equipment that surveys to 1 part in 300 and repeat the survey with another set of equipment that measures at 1 part in 300 and expect to get the same results.

Not long ago, I was asked to speak to a group of trial attorneys and explain why all old surveys were erroneous. I told them I would be glad to be part of their meeting but needed to change the title of the discussion to “Why the original surveys were done to a different accuracy standard.” I believe many surveyors don’t understand how the accuracy may differ between a survey performed in 1800, 1900, 1950 and five years ago. Yet this is a very important part of the interpretation of the evidence gathered while researching the job.

Computing Corners

Another school of thought is to accept some corners found in the field and somehow wrap your deed description over them. This is where the computer comes into play. With this approach, you typically hang your hat on a few corners and tie the deed to them. Then you compute new locations for the other corners and send the crew back to the field to pop in new monuments at all the other corners. In many cases, a corner already exists, and this action results in double monumentation.

Finding monuments that are not called for in the deed description also leads to double monumentation. An old stone may well be the original corner, but if it is not called for in the deed, then proving your case may be difficult, especially if the stone location does not agree with the record distances. In this case, it is easy to drive a new monument a few feet away. It happens all the time--you throw up your hands and say, “Maybe someone moved the stone.”

Recently, I was judging a plat contest at a state convention. One plat showed a 4-inch concrete monument with a brass cap with a drill hole in the center. The plat stated that the true corner was “two hundreds of a foot north and one and one half hundreds east of the drill hole.” The surveyor who recorded that does not understand surveying and should probably be brought before the board of licensure.

Researching and Returning to the Field

In contrast to the two methods I’ve described, I believe our approach to surveying should start with researching everything from the courthouse, including adjoining deeds and records affecting the title of the property. Old surveys provide a wealth of information. Ask the neighbors, call fellow surveyors and ask if they have records of former (retired or deceased) surveyors in your area, and ask the property owners if they have old documents relating to the property. Sometimes you may have to retrieve documents from the probate office or, in some cases, even find divorce records. One of the best records of the location of property boundaries is the building ties on an old survey plat, but this information is seldom used by surveyors.

After the research comes the fieldwork. Gathering the right data in the field has more to do with the art of surveying than the science of surveying. Is the found corner a length of electrical conduit or iron pipe? Is it driven in perpendicular to the ground? (I used to use a transit to drive corner pipes correctly.) Have you used a shovel along a steel fence to probe for corners? Do you dig around found corners to see if another surveyor might have driven a corner below the ground surface because he did not agree with it on his survey? On a job in Florida, I once found a second corner that had the plastic cap of the same surveyor. You can bet I had a few questions to ask him.

Can you determine what might have been the original corners in the subdivision by looking in surrounding blocks? In the late ‘50s while I was working on a crew as a rodman, I remember having one-half foot of extra land at the west end of the subdivision because the party chief had failed to correct for temperature as summer turned into winter. We prorated it into the last six or eight lots. But I’m willing to bet there are plenty of double corners in that area today. We set pinched pipe corners, and a little measuring around the area would show a current surveyor that the pinched pipes are the original corners.

Lately, I keep hearing about how we need a new “super license” to survey land. Many people believe that the average surveyor is not well trained in land surveying. My opinion is that surveyors should be both carefully trained and licensed in the art of surveying. Very few of the double monumentation situations exist where registered surveyors are doing their own fieldwork. Double monumentation happens most frequently when companies send crews to the field with instructions to gather a lot of data or do the best they can, bring the data into the office and try to find the correct answer in the computer. This has never worked and never will.

Clearly, double monumentation can be an ethical, professional and liability issue. In many cases, adding additional corners can create boundary issues where none previously existed. Is this serving your client in a professional manner? Certainly not! Can doing the job correctly run you over budget? Yes, but you as the professional have no choice but to complete the project thoroughly to the best of your ability and knowledge. As professionals, we are required to bring order out of chaos in the land system.

Neither the author nor POB intend this column to be as source of legal advice for surveyors or their clients.

Sidebar: Seven Rules for Serving the Client and the Profession (and limiting liability for everyone involved)

1. Research all surveys properly.

2. Explore all possibilities when performing fieldwork.

3. Make every effort to hold an existing corner. Show the difference between the two on the plat as “Record” and “Measured.” From time to time, you may be asked to sign a statement that says the deed and surveyed parcel are one and the same. This will not be a problem if you have held the original corners.

4. Give a complete description of monumentation in the property description and on the plat.

5. If warranted, write a surveyor’s report (required in some states). This will benefit all involved.

6. If a real boundary problem exists, involve the client in the process of solving it. A simple boundary line agreement is more cost-effective for all parties involved than going to court.

7. Sign and review all plats carefully before they leave your company. Do not allow employees to stamp your survey signature and seal. Remember that whatever happens, you are the one on the hook.