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What type of survey do I need?

It depends on your situation and purpose. The more common types of surveys that the general public may need are as follows:

Surveyor's Staking Certificate. A Surveyor's Staking Certificate places and documents survey monuments on the limits of a particular parcel of land. It indicates the dimensions of the property and reports any building encroachments from or onto adjacent lands.

You are entitled to enjoy the full extent of your property. When building a fence, you may build up to, but not over the property limit. Having your property staked will give you the security of knowing your fence is in the right place and will not have to be moved and re-built at a later date.

Before undertaking any construction project, it is prudent to know the exact location and extent of your property. The survey monuments will assist you in establishing the required front and sideyard setbacks to comply with zoning requirements and to avoid possible encroachment or variance situations.

Finding some sort of metal marker pin near where you think the property corner should be may not be a reliable way of determining you property limits. It may have been placed by a prior owner, a neighbour, or someone else who is not a qualified land surveyor and may not be a legal survey pin. Even if it is a legal pin, it may have been disturbed from its original position and incorrectly set back to where someone thought it should go. It may represent a bend in the road or the beginning of a curve and may not be your lot corner at all. Some legal survey pins are set on offset lines or witnessed from the true property corner due to underground obstructions.

An encroachment from an adjoining property may restrict the full use and enjoyment of your property. If the encroachment is from your property onto adjacent lands, you may be faced with the effort and expense of removing it. Realizing this at the outset may influence your decision to purchase or at least eliminate any surprises later.

Surveyor's Building Location Certificate: Sometimes simply called a survey or a survey certificate, a Building Location Certificate (B.L.C.) is a common legal document prepared by a Manitoba Land Surveyor in conjunction with the sale of a house or commercial property. It shows the exact dimensions and positions of the land and buildings on a particular property and reports any encroachments onto or from adjoining properties. Survey monuments are not placed on the limits of the property unless specifically requested. In other provinces, a similar document is called a Real Property Report.

Most jurisdictions have certain restrictions as to the location of buildings within a property. The B.L.C. allows the local municipal authority to determine if the property complies with the applicable zoning by-laws. For example, it may be discovered that a new garage, an addition on the side of a house or even an air conditioner is too close to the property line and must be removed or a zoning variance obtained. When a current Building Location Certificate and a zoning memorandum are obtained prior to the sale of a property, it protects the purchaser by warning of any encroachments, restrictions in the physical extent of the property or zoning violations.

When purchasing property, the Latin phrase caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, is applicable. Once you take possession of a property, you take possession of any associated problems. It is important to identify any potential problems before closing so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not to proceed with the purchase or to have the current owner correct any problems before taking possession of the property.

Please refer to the article A Road Runs Through It  from the Winnipeg Free Press for an example of what can happen when property is purchased without first obtaining a survey. The last line of the article states that "a survey is typically required in property purchases to obtain a mortgage". All too often, people assume a survey is required simply as a condition of obtaining a mortgage, not realizing or having it explained to them that the real beneficiary of a survey is the prospective purchaser of the land. A lending institution would only have an interest in the survey if the borrower defaulted and the lender foreclosed on the property, inheriting problems such as the ones detailed in the article. In the real world, relatively few people default on their mortgages and it is the purchaser who inherits any such problems. Whether a mortgage is required or not, it is still highly advisable that anyone thinking about purchasing property have it surveyed prior to taking possession.

Plan of Subdivision: If you are subdividing land, your proposed subdivision will have to first be approved by the local planning authority. If approved, one of the conditions of the approval will usually be that the proposed new lot(s) be surveyed by a Manitoba Land Surveyor and that he/she prepare a Plan of Subdivision for registration in the Property Registry (Land Titles Office). This plan will show the dimensions and configuration of the new lot(s) and is the document upon which the new titles will be based.

Other Plans and Surveys: There are a variety of other surveys and plans commonly prepared by land surveyors for more specific purposes and/or clients. These include site or topographic plans, Plans of Public Road, Plans of Air Space, Plans of Water Storage, Treaty Land Entitlement Plans, Condominium Plans, Plans of Easement, Plans of Right-of-Way and various municipal plans.

What information is needed to request an estimate?

When requesting an estimate for survey services, please have one or more of the following pieces of information available:

  • Certificate of Title Number or Deed Number
  • Legal Description of the Property (e.g. - Lot, Block & Plan Number; River Lot & Parish; Section, Township & Range)
  • Municipal Roll Number
  • Civic Address

You can obtain this information from your property tax bill or from your property and/or mortgage documentation.

If you are requesting an estimate for a Plan of Subdivision, we will need a copy of the letter of Conditional Approval from the local planning authority or the Municipal Planning File Number shown on the first page of this document.

Estimates can usually be given over the phone, free of charge and often the same day, but sometimes a day or two may be required to perform the necessary title and survey plan research.

Should I use or accept an old photocopy of a Building Location Certificate?

In a word- no. An unauthorized copy of a B.L.C. may not fully protect the prospective purchaser. It cannot warn you of recent changes to buildings or easements. Encroachments from adjacent lands may now exist which did not exist when the earlier survey was done. The extent of the property may have changed due to land being taken for street widenings or subdivision. A B.L.C. obtained from a source other than a Manitoba Land Surveyor may have been deliberately “altered” and re-copied to appear to comply with zoning restrictions or to remove an encroachment where one in fact exists. Standards for B.L.C.s have evolved over the years and an old B.L.C. may not have shown such things as air conditioners, decks, or driveway access encroachments that are now required to be shown. Building Location Certificates are documents in which copyright is held by the Land Surveyor who prepared it. If the document does not bear his/her official seal, it was probably illegally copied and possession or use of it without his/her consent is a violation of the federal Copyright Act.

Individuals or organizations that re-issue unauthorized copies of B.L.C.s are in violation of the Copyright Act. Individuals promoting this practice may be in violation of Codes of Ethics issued by governing professions or organizations to which they belong. Obtaining a new sealed B.L.C. from a Manitoba Land Surveyor will assure you of an accurate and up to date document.

Should I let my lawyer order a survey on my behalf?

Perhaps. When you obtain the services of a lawyer in the purchase of a house or property, it is his/her obligation to protect your interests in the transaction and towards this end, he/she will often order a B.L.C. on your behalf. A B.L.C., unless specifically requested, does not usually include the staking of the property corners and some lawyers do not advise their clients of this. However, new homeowners often would like to have to property corners staked when they take possession of a property so that, in addition to knowing the location of the buildings as shown on a sketch, they also know the full physical extent of the entire property on the ground. There is an additional fee to stake the property when preparing a B.L.C., but it is almost always substantially less than having to make a return trip at a later date and essentially re-survey the property again from scratch. You may wish to advise your lawyer to inquire as to the cost to stake the property when the B.L.C. is being prepared or, better still, to contact a Manitoba Land Surveyor yourself and make this inquiry.

Real estate transactions are an ongoing source of work for some law firms and often, they retain the services of the same land surveyor or land surveying firm on behalf of their clients. However, travel to and from the property is often one of the major factors affecting the cost of a survey. A lawyer retaining a survey firm from Winnipeg to perform a survey of a distant cottage or rural property may result in you paying higher fees for this reason. If your lawyer routinely deals with a Winnipeg firm for properties in Winnipeg, and your property is located in a rural area, you may wish to instruct him/her to contact a surveying firm (or to contact a surveying firm yourself) which is located closer to your property for a cost estimate. There are several surveying firms located in smaller centres throughout Manitoba who may be able to provide you with more economic and timely surveying services for cottage and rural properties.

Who can perform a survey?

In Manitoba, only a Manitoba Land Surveyor (M.L.S.) in good standing with the Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors is authorized by law to engage in the practice of land surveying. The Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors is a professional, self-governing body operating under The Land Surveyors Act (Manitoba) that regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public and administration of the profession. In order to maintain the standards of integrity and technical knowledge, the Association establishes entrance requirements, arranges for continuing education (professional development) of its members, maintains professional standards including a Code of Ethics, arbitrates complaints from the public, and disciplines its members when necessary.

Land surveyors are the only persons recognized by law to provide an expert opinion on the location of property boundaries. This opinion often takes the form of a plan, report, or placement of property corner markers, and is based on an analysis of documentary research and assessment of field evidence.

Under Section 2 of the Land Surveyors Act, the practice of land surveying is defined as:

(a) the determination, establishment, location, demarcation or definition of a boundary;
(b) the determination of the location of anything relative to a boundary for the purpose of certifying the location of the thing;
(c) the determination, establishment, location, demarcation or definition of a riparian boundary, for the purpose of certifying a boundary;
(d) establishing and maintaining a network of geodetic points and certifying spatial values in relation to them, for the purposes of work described in clauses (a) to (c);
(e) establishing photogrammetric mapping or remotely sensed data control for the purposes of work described in clauses (a) to (d);
(f) advising, reporting or taking any other action, including the preparation of maps, plans and documents, in respect of any matter described in clauses (a) to (e).

Section 3(1) of the Land Surveyors Act further states:
Subject to subsections (2) and (3), no person other than a Manitoba land surveyor or a professional corporation shall engage in the practice of land surveying.

Section 71(1) of the Land Surveyors Act further states:
71(1) A person who contravenes a provision of this Act, other than section 77, is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction
(a) for a first offence, to a fine of not more than $15,000; and
(b) for a second or subsequent offence, to a fine of not more than $30,000.

I'm thinking about subdividing land. What do I do?

Information is available at the following links:

1) A Guide to the Subdivision Process in Manitoba
2) Subdivision Application

Isaac & Denchuk can assist you in completing your application to subdivide. We can research title and plan information in order to prepare a title plot showing the extent of your property. Using computer drafting software, we can help you design your proposed subdivision so as to comply with local zoning by-laws regarding matters such as minimum lot frontage and area requirements, road widths, public reserve requirements, etc. If required, we can attend the site in order to locate physical features such as existing buildings, fences, ejectors, driveways, etc., around which the subdivision needs to be configured.

When your proposed subdivision has been conditionally approved by the local planning authority, one of the conditions will usually be that a Plan of Subdivision be prepared by a Manitoba Land Surveyor. Depending on factors such as the time of year, the size and location of the subdivision, and current workload, the fieldwork for the subdivision can usually be completed within a few days or a few weeks of receiving authorization to proceed.

Within the following few days or weeks, the Plan of Subdivision will be drafted on computer software and then deposited in the Land Title Office for examination. Depending on the workload at Land Titles, this process will usually take from four to eight weeks. Land Titles will then issue a Memorandum of Examination. Typically, there will be some minor amendments to the plan required at this time which usually can be dealt with in a few days.

After this, Land Titles issues their Tentative Approval for the plan. This gives the land surveyor approval to make the final mylar and paper prints required by planning. These prints are then made, signed by the land surveyor who superintended the survey, and the client is advised that they are ready to be picked up. The registered owners of the land will sign the mylar prints and they can then be taken to the local planning authority. When all of the conditions and requirements in the letter of conditional approval (preparation of the Plan of Subdivision is usually one of several) have been met, the planning authority will issue their Certificate of Approval.

The mylar prints and the Certificate of Approval can now be taken to the Property Registry for registration and then new titles will be issued. Although not a requirement, the Property Registry usually recommends that a lawyer be retained for registration of the plan and creation of new titles, particularly if there are encumbrances registered against the property or if land transfers will be required.

Do I need title insurance to insure that my title is valid?

No. Title insurance has its origins and is widely used in the United States. It has started to be sold in Canada in recent years. In the United States, under what is known as the Registry System, deeds are not examined by any central authority and title is not guaranteed by the state. Exhaustive and expensive searches of scattered and/or incomplete records may be required to determine the "root of title" and current true ownership of land. Title insurance was created to deal with this and has a useful role in this type of situation.

In Manitoba, under the Torrens System of land registration, the Province is by law the sole repository of title documents. Title documents are rigorously examined for validity prior to registration and title is guaranteed by the Provincial Government. To deal with potential errors or overlaps in title, which are extremely rare, the province is required to maintain an assurance fund for compensation. For those people unfamiliar with the Torrens System, the name title insurance is misleading- implying that title is not insured and that this type of insurance is needed for consumer protection.

Recently, rather than continuing attempting to sell consumers an insurance product for a situation which is already covered by provincial law, some title insurance companies have changed their pitch and are marketing title insurance as an alternative to having the property surveyed. In effect they are advising people, when making what is probably the largest financial purchase of their lives, to remain wilfully ignorant about the extent and location of what they are buying - the land and the structures on the land. Sometimes title insurance is sold directly to the prospective purchaser but more often, it is sold indirectly by being bundled with the mortgage application from the lending institution with a more comprehensive homeowners option at additional cost.

Lending institutions and real estate agents have a vested financial interest in home sales. When a home is sold, a real estate agent usually receives a commission and a lending institution is usually able to sell a mortgage. If a prospective homebuyer requests that a current B.L.C. or Staking Certificate be obtained prior to purchase and it identifies an encroachment, a zoning issue or an access problem, the prospective purchaser may ask that the current owner rectify the problem before closing the sale. This may put the home sale and thus the related financial interests in jeopardy. When obtaining title insurance, problems are not disclosed beforehand on the assumption that the insurance will cover any future losses. In this manner, the purchase of title insurance may grease the wheels of commerce, but it may not be in the best interests of the prospective purchaser. If you are considering title insurance, read the fine print of the policy and/or have an experienced real estate lawyer explain it to you.

At some point during their ownership of property - because they want to build a fence or garage, because of an issue with a neighbour, or simply because they want to be certain of what it is they actually own - most people will choose to have their property surveyed. A land survey identifies on the ground and/or shows on a plan or sketch what the title identifies in words. If a survey is performed prior to closing, the purchaser takes possession of the house and land with full knowledge of the facts about the property.

When one considers all the costs inherent in the purchase and ownership of a property- the price of the house & land, real estate commissions, mortgage costs, legal fees, land transfer taxes, ongoing home insurance & property taxes- the one-time cost of a Building Location Certificate or Staking Certificate is probably the most inexpensive yet valuable disbursements in the whole process.

When considering the purchase of a home, it is advisable to speak to an experienced real estate lawyer or a land surveyor or to find out the benefits of having your property surveyed as opposed to purchasing title insurance.

Can surveys be done in the winter?

Yes. Some people are surprised to learn that surveyors work outside all year round including winter. In fact, there are some advantages to surveying in winter. In some remote or northern areas, winter is the best time of year for access because this is when muskeg, lakes, and swamps are frozen. Although winter surveying presents its own challenges, there are no mosquitoes or wood ticks and little chance of sunburn or poison ivy at this time of year.

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