Adverse Possession: A legal theory by which a land owner may acquire ownership of real property that he or she does not have deeded title to. A common example of an instance in which a claim of adverse possession may arise would be that of a fence line that does not agree with a surveyed deed line. Standards of adverse possession vary from State to State but the general premises remain the same. Generally, in order to prevail on a claim of adverse possession the following must exist:

Most instances of adverse possession arise out of a property owner engaging in a survey of their property. When discovered, it is the role of the professional surveyor to document differences between deeded lines of ownership and lines of occupation. Occasionally, these differences result in a confrontation between landowners. Land surveyors are not qualified to resolve legal disputes between property owners. When faced with either the defense or claim of adverse possession, all land owners are advised to seek council with a qualified real estate attorney to insure that all their legal rights have been duly protected.

ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey: Used for the acquisition of extended title insurance, this is a boundary and as-built survey that purports to depict and any all encumbrances with a property prior to its sale or refinancing. Following the strict guidelines prepared by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, these surveys are intended to be wholly inclusive of all existing improvements on the subject property and depict any and all matters of title that exist in the public record and that are locatable by a survey.

Binding Site Plan: An alternate method of subdivision of real property that is typically used in commercial, industrial or multi-family projects.

Boundary Line Adjustment: A County or City review process by which the boundary lines of existing parcels may be reconfigured so long as no new parcels are created. A survey is often required to insure that the new parcel lines meet the minimum requirements for building setbacks, parcel area and any other requirements of the applicable zoning code. If a boundary line adjustment is done to adjust parcel lines internal to one ownership, recording of the adjustment finalizes the project. If a boundary line adjustment is done between two separately owned parcels, deeds must be recorded after boundary line adjustment is filed in order to convey the real property depicted on the boundary line adjustment map. Also, prior to recording all taxes for each property contained in the boundary line adjustment must be paid in full for the entire year in which the adjustment is recorded.

Boundary Line Agreement: As allowed for in RCW 58.04.007 and most often used for matters of dispute resolution, Boundary Line Agreements require a Record of Survey map prepared by a Licensed Land Surveyor and an agreement prepared by a licensed attorney. Use of this procedure eliminates the need to go through Boundary Line Adjustment review, but as stated the parameters of its use are limited.

Cadastral Survey: From the Latin capitastrum, meaning “down the line”, a cadastral survey is simply a survey that establishes property lines. In Washington and Oregon, cadastral surveys are always retracements of the original surveys performed by the General Land Office (GLO) Surveyors. Most often, true cadastral retracement surveys are performed for property owners who wish to harvest their timberlands properties.

Donation Land Claim: The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 provided for the claiming and settlement of the public domain in portions of the Oregon Territory (which included the State of Washington) in advance of the actual PLSS survey by the General Land Office. To qualify, applicants had only to be “Oregon-bound citizen above the age of 21 years. . . may select a half section (320 acres) of land, then live upon and cultivate it for a period of four successive years. If the settler had a wife, she could claim an additional 320 acres”. These claims still exist to this day and though often subdivided and sold, title to the modern parcels still refer back to being a “portion of” the original Donation Land Claims.

Elevation Certificate: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides a standard form that is used for the issuance of both building permits and flood insurance in areas that are subject to Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). It is the role of the Professional Land Surveyor to establish elevations relative to the SFHA and map the subject property and any substantial improvements thereon. The data gathered is then entered into the form provided by FEMA for the use of the property owner, the County or City Building Official, Flood Insurance Providers and any Lenders.

Exempt subdivision/Segregation Survey: Divisions of property that do not require review and approval by planning staff. The threshold for an exempt subdivision is lot size. Depending on the jurisdiction and the zoning that the property is located in lots of 10 acres, 20 acres, 40 acres and 80 acres may be exempt from review.

Large Lot Subdivision: Applicable most often in County jurisdictions, a division of property in to six or less lots where each lot is 5 acres or larger. Most jurisdictions require that the land owner/sub-divider develop the property (i.e. install the roads, storm facility, provide that each lot will pass for septic design and water availability) before the subdivision may be recorded and the lots may be sold.

Long (formal) Plat: Applicable most often in City jurisdictions, a division of property in to five or more lots (or in some cases ten or more lots) any one of which is less than 5 acres in size. All long plat submittals require that the land owner/sub-divider develop the property (i.e. install the roads, sewer, water, storm facility, etc.) before the plat may be recorded and the lots may be sold.

Public Land Survey System (PLSS): The original system for the disposition of public lands. Created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Public Land Survey System sets forth a method by which the public domain is subdivided into six square mile Townships, each containing 36 Sections. Townships are controlled by principle meridians which are based upon astronomical bearings. Washington and Oregon are controlled by the Willamette Meridian, which has its beginning point in Portland, Oregon and runs North to the south end of Puget Sound and South to the California border. In Washington and Oregon, all real property conveyances and all surveys thereof are in some way based upon the Public Land Survey System.

Short Plat: In County jurisdictions, a division of property in to four or less lots, any one of which is less than 5 acres in size. In some City jurisdictions, a division of property in to nine or less lots, any one of which is less than 5 acres in size. Although the rules vary by jurisdiction, almost all short plat submittals require that the land owner/sub-divider develop the property (i.e. install the roads, sewer, water, storm facility, etc.) before the short plat may be recorded and the lots may be sold.

Topographic Survey: A real property survey that incorporates vertical measurements to produce a map containing contours depicting the shape of the subject property. Most often performed in advance of a subdivision for road, storm facility and utility design or for advanced flood plain mapping.