Landowners who intend on applying conservation practices to improve their land's sustainability and value should first know where their property's boundaries are, Kandi Williams, outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Keeping it in the Family (KIITF) Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program, said. Obtaining a land survey will help them understand and have proof of their property’s boundaries before conducting activities such as site preparation, planting, thinning, spraying or harvesting timber.
“Accidentally encroaching on and conducting activities on your neighbor’s property can lead to headaches and expensive legal fees,” she said.
Justin Mallett, KIITF Program partner and county forester for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture – Forestry Division, said having a boundary survey protects a landowner’s property from encroachment and helps them avoid costly property disputes.
When conducting boundary surveys, surveyors visit an individual’s property and determine where the land’s boundaries are. They compare the boundaries with those on previous surveys, look for and record previous survey markers and replace missing survey markers. They then record all their findings in a type of map-diagram called a “plat.”
“If you own land and are unsure of where the boundaries or corners are, it is a good idea to get a survey completed as a precaution,” he said. “Most landowners are not worried about boundaries until something happens. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the cost of having a survey conducted is cheaper than a lawsuit or the cost of having to move a structure.”
Mallett said landowners should have surveys completed before harvesting timber, building roads or installing any buildings. And being able to precisely mark one’s own property will keep neighbors from accidentally encroaching and conducting these sorts of activities across property lines.
“If you don’t get your property surveyed, you may also miss out on important opportunities that are only available to those who can adequately prove the ownership and boundaries of their land — for example, grants, timber sales and land improvements,” he said.
The costs of having boundary surveys conducted vary greatly, Mallett said. Most surveyors charge by the hour. Some charge different hourly rates for the different steps of the process such as doing field work, conducting research and drafting the plat. As a rule of thumb, the less work a surveyor must do to establish or reestablish a property boundary, the cheaper the survey will be.
“Getting a survey isn’t usually going to be cheap,” he said. “There is a lot of money tied up in the precision equipment surveyors use, and there is also quite a bit of demand. You can usually ask for an estimate from the surveyor. Not every surveyor may be willing to provide an estimate, but you can always ask.”
Since they could all benefit from knowing the exact property lines, groups of neighbors can share the cost of a survey. Some surveyors offer cheaper rates to groups of neighbors who request and pay for a survey together.
There are a few steps required to request a boundary survey. The more steps landowners complete on their own, the less money they will have to pay in the end. Mallett recommends landowners keep these tips in mind when preparing to request a boundary survey:
• In the case of heir property (when land is inherited by a group of individuals), find the name of the legal property owner. This information is available on ownership maps.
• Refer to the tax assessor to find the legal description of the property. This can be done by searching for information under the property owner’s name on the assessor’s website. Most counties in Arkansas use either www.Actdatascout.com or www.ARcountydata.com. If the legal description is not available online, visit the assessor’s office in person.
• Using the legal description, look on the state surveyor’s website to find out if there is a recent existing survey plat recorded for the property. It is necessary to download a plat reader application to view the plats, which are not available for printing.
• Check with the County Clerk’s office to find the older plats for the property. Depending on how busy they are, the office staff might help you find the information you need for free. However, they charge for copies, so bring some cash.
• Use a surveyor who has previously surveyed the property or who has surveyed the neighboring properties. Surveyors usually keep all their previous surveys and supporting information on file. The less time the surveyor has to spend researching, the better and cheaper it is for landowners.
• If it is not possible to work with a surveyor who has previously surveyed the property, use the following online resources to find a surveyor:
— Arkansas State Board of Licensure for Professional Surveyors (http://www.arkansas.gov/pels).
— Arkansas Society of Professional Surveyors (https://www.arprofessionalsurveyors.com).
— Division of Land Surveys (https://surveyor.arkansas.gov).
Mallett said it is important that landowners get their surveys completed well in advance of a timber harvest or management activity.
Landowners should understand that surveys take time to complete, he said. Surveyors are in high demand and usually have a long list of properties they need to survey. There is a lot of research and groundwork that goes into the process.
“As with everything that deals with land, resources or forestry, there are many state agencies that can help landowners achieve their goals,” Mallett said. “Even if someone doesn’t know the answer to your question right away, they can connect you to someone who does.”
In case of questions, Mallett recommends Arkansas landowners call the Division of Land Surveys at (501) 683-1666, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service at (501) 671-2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at (501) 301-3100, or the Arkansas Forestry Division at (501) 225-1598.
For more information on UAPB’s KIITF Sustainable Forestry and African-American Land Retention Program, contact Williams at (870) 571-9428 or [email protected].