Ed Siegert, Prof. L.S., Chief
7125 Riverwood Drive, Suite B
Columbia, MD 21046
Email the Survey Division
About the Survey Division
The Survey Division is comprised of field and office staff providing professional management and guidance, administrative support, technical computations, geodetic control determination, and development of land acquisition plats.
Information About Surveys
Land Surveying And The Land Owner
What is the Land Survey?
A land survey is the describing, monumenting, and mapping of the boundaries and corners of a parcel of land. It may also include the subdivision and layout of new lots and streets, the determination of the physical features of the land and the location of the buildings and other improvements upon the land. A land survey locates upon the ground that land which your deed describes.
Types of Surveys
Boundary Survey - A survey for the express purpose of locating the exact boundaries and corners of a given parcel of land. This involves record and field research, field measurements and computations with the findings usually being shown on a survey plat that is given to the land owner. A description may also be required for purposes of recording a new deed.
Location Drawings - A location drawing includes Physical Improvement Surveys, House Locations and Mortgage Loan Inspections. The purpose of a location drawing is to locate, describe and represent the positions of building(s) or other visible improvements or both, affecting the inspected property. Location drawings are not Boundary Surveys and should not be used to establish boundary lines.
Topographic Survey - A survey locating features, natural and man-made, such as elevations, contours of the land, streams, buildings, fences, etc. A combination of boundary and topographic surveying is used for design and development of roads, subdivisions, industrial construction and land use studies.
Subdivision Survey - A survey for the division of any tract of land into smaller lots, with monumentation and subdivision plan conforming to the governing ordinances, and with boundary descriptions for new deeds as required.
Control Survey - Precise location both horizontally and vertically of diverse points for mapping and orientation of aerial photographs.
Court Exhibit Survey - Analysis of various descriptions, monuments and physical features for the purpose of visual display in the courtroom.
Construction Survey - Layout for control of construction of roads, buildings, pipelines, etc.
When is a Survey Advisable?
BEFORE title in land is transferred without being clearly defined by a plat and description, and located on the surface of the earth.
BEFORE land is subdivided by deed, will, or by the court.
BEFORE land is developed by the construction of buildings, roads, fences, etc.
BEFORE a boundary dispute arises or when you believe someone is encroaching upon your land.
BEFORE timber is to be cut and removed.
Methods of Land Surveying
The class of work and degree of accuracy often determine the method most appropriate; each offering certain limitations as to cost and need.
Compass and Tape:
Surveys with a magnetic compass and steel tape or chain. This equipment was primarily used prior to 1950. Many metes and bounds descriptions in deeds are still based on surveys performed with this equipment.
Transit and tape:
Angles are measured with the transit and distances measured with a steel tape giving an accuracy significantly greater than the methods previously listed. This permits the more precise control necessary in land subdivision planning, construction surveying, and nearly all boundary or land title surveys. This method is used for most work at this time.
Theodolite and Electronic Distance Measuring:
With this method, angles and distances are measured with a high degree of precision, and is particularly good for control surveys and large boundary surveys. The equipment is being constantly refined and its use on smaller surveys is becoming more practical all the time.
Topographic mapping may be done from aerial photographs and is particularly useful for large areas. Usually the photography is made precisely for the project involved. Accurate ground survey work must be used to establish measurements, both horizontally and vertically, to photo-identifiable points to insure scale and accuracy of the photo model.
Surveys performed using survey grade GPS (Global Positioning Systems) equipment are giving positional accuracies to +/- 1 cm. This method used in open terrain allows the surveyor to establish coordinates on the features he wishes to locate. This data is then downloaded to a computer for processing.
Cost of a Land Survey
The cost of a land survey depends on many things, including the type of survey needed and the method used. Some variables which affect the cost of a land survey are:
- Required accuracy and purpose for the survey.
- Complexity of deeds; the number of parcels that need to be researched in legal records and encompassed by field surveys, many times complicated by vague, incomplete, and often contradictory legal descriptions. Deeds for abutting lands must be researched and unrecorded deeds and agreements must be resolved.
- Size and Shape; an irregular shape has more corners and a longer boundary than a square containing the same area.
- Terrain and Accessibility; a flat field is easier to survey than a mountain. Vegetation and swamps complicate the survey procedures.
- Field evidence; the existence of iron pins, stone corners, fences, designated trees, etc. aid the surveyor and their absence compound difficulties. Cooperative neighbors can be very helpful.
- Time of year; summer foliage restricts sighting distances whereas deep winter snows slow travel and conceals field evidence.
- Monumentation; the type of mounmentation requested or required to be used to mark the final boundaries and corners, i.e., concrete or cut stone markers, although more durable, require more effort to set and are more costly to obtain than iron pins.
- Plat requirement; the necessary details to be shown on the survey map as well as the requirements of the Planning Commissions, Title Insurance Companies, Engineers, Architects, etc. affect the time involved to produce the map.
It is usually impractical to pre-determine exact costs because of the many variables. However, the PROFESSIONAL LAND SURVEYOR or PROPERTY LINE SURVEYOR can usually furnish an approximate estimate of cost.
A good survey that meets your need and legal requirements, based on careful research, and complete and accurate field and office work, may well prove to be the least expensive in the end. In essence, you get what you pay for.
You will probably require the services of a Professional Land Surveyor or Property Line Surveyor only once or twice in your lifetime. Most generally the need arises when you buy a home or parcel of land. Since this transaction represents a large and important investment to you and your family, Howard County Department of Public Works has reprinted (in part) this pamphlet is presented as a public service.
The Professional Land Surveyor and Property Line Surveyor renders a highly technical, complex service.
Depending on the need required, he may render a complete service or be a part of a professional team comprised of the surveyor, attorney, title or Mortgage Company, engineer or architect.
In times of litigation, the Profession Land Surveyor or Property Line Surveyor is often called upon to appear in court as an expert witness because his testimony is accepted as professional evidence.
No one other than the Professional Land Surveyor or Property Line Surveyor can assume the responsibility for the correctness and accuracy of his work. A licensed Engineer or Architect cannot perform boundary or property surveys in the State of Maryland.
It is very important that your surveyor communicate with you on any conditions that may change the scope of work. It is always a good idea to ask your surveyor to keep you informed on the progress of the survey.
Selecting a Surveyor
For a surveyor to practice or to offer to practice surveying in the State of Maryland, he must be licensed and registered under the laws of the State of Maryland as a Surveyor and possess evidence of his current license.
Only a licensed Professional Land Surveyor or Property Line Surveyor may perform boundary surveys, land title surveys, and topographic surveys in the State of Maryland. A Professional Land Surveyor or Property Line Surveyor who practices in accordance with his Society’s Code of Ethics is a credit to his community, his profession, his client or employer, and to himself.
Most Professional Land Surveyors or Property Line Surveyors are listed in the “Yellow Pages” or you may consult The Maryland Society of Surveyors for a list of Professional Land Surveyors or Property Line Surveyors active in your area.
How do I get a copy of my recorded Plat or Deed?
A copy of your recorded plat can be obtained from the Circuit Court for Howard County Md., Land Records Office. Their phone number is 410-313-5850. They are located at 6095 Marshalee Drive, Suite 120, Elkridge, MD 21075. For additional details, please consult the Land Records Office website.
Please note that the information in the Public Record is limited to the geometric outline and legal definition of your Property or Lot only, and will not show the relationship of any improvements thereon to the property lines, nor likely indicate if property corners have ever been set. If a Survey has been done on your property in the past that may illustrate these items, such as a Location Drawing or Boundary Survey, they are considered a private transaction between the landowner at the time and a private surveyor or survey firm. These surveys are not required to be filed with or kept with Land Records, nor the Howard County Survey Division.
Do you perform surveys for citizens of Howard County?
We do not do residential surveys. The Survey Division of the Department of Public Works only performs surveys on county-owned land or land that the county is involved in via projects or emergency incidents.
How do I hire a surveyor?
To have your property lines surveyed and marked on the ground you would have to engage a licensed Surveyor. The Survey Division cannot recommend any one surveyor; there are many small firms in the Ellicott City/ Howard County area that do very good work. To have your property lines marked on the ground you would have to engage a licensed Registered Professional Land Surveyor or licensed Registered Property Line Surveyor. To have a Survey performed, we recommend that you contact the firm that did the survey to prepare your record plat or mortgage survey when you purchased your property. If you don’t have a copy of your deed or plat you can get a copy of the deed and/or plat (if a plat was prepared) at the Circuit Court for Howard County Md., Land Records Office (website). Their phone number is 410-313-5850. If you would like to entertain estimates from other survey firms you could also use the phone book or internet. We recommend that you talk to 3 or 4 firms before hiring the one with whom you feel most comfortable. Tell the Surveyor that you want the corners and/or line/lines marked on the ground and that you want to be kept informed if any difficulties should arise that might change the scope of the job. Get a work order or contract with the firm you choose and, in the document, make sure it states what you want as an end product such as a drawing made, the line marked on the ground and/or the property corners set.
The Surveyor will then come out to your property and look for any existing property corners to base the survey on. Those existing corners will be located with measurements and computations will be made in the office. The Surveyor will then come back to your property and lay out the property corners and/or lines as requested in your work order or contract. For what you are doing, you may only want them to mark one or two lines, but it may be cost effective to have them mark your other corners since the Surveyor will already be on the property.
What standards do Surveyors work toward?
All licensed Registered Professional Land Surveyors or licensed Registered Property Line Surveyors have to abide by the Maryland Minimum Standards of Practice. These can be found at the Maryland Division of State Documents.
* Boundary Surveys can be found in chapter 09.13.06.03.htm Topographic Surveys can be found in chapter 09.13.06.04.htm and Location Surveys can be found in chapter 09.13.06.06.htm.