Even with Satellite Mapping Disputes Still Arise Concerning Plats
While satellite mapping using GPS has improved surveying practices since the late 1990s, problems with old plats may still persist. Generally, the older the plat, and the more rural the location, the more likely the plat contains one or more errors. This can lead to litigation over property boundaries. Also, issues can arise from notes and comments on plats concerning neighbors’ rights.
Stewart Melvin & Frost attorney Rustin Smith is with us this morning to discuss issues that can still occur with plats.
Rustin’s firm – Stewart Melvin & Frost – is one of Northeast Georgia’s largest and fastest-growing law firms. It is widely respected as an “Uncommon Practice” – featuring an experienced team of attorneys recognized individually as experts in highly specialized areas of the law.
Question: Even with satellite mapping, is it still hard to get an accurate rendering of a map?
Rustin: Mapping any part of the Earth is hard due to the problem of displaying a 3D image on a 2D map or plat. All maps are distorted in one way or another due to the curvature of the earth. The degree is less significant with maps of smaller places, but it’s still a factor in mapping and surveying.
There also is a perception issue because maps we’ve seen our entire lives are not correct. If you look at a map, you’re likely to see that North America is larger than Africa, Alaska is larger than Mexico and China is smaller than Greenland. In reality China is four times bigger than Greenland, Africa is three times bigger than North America and Mexico is larger than Alaska.
If you want to have some fun, go to the website – thetruesize.com. It is a fun way to understand just how “off” our perceptions are.
Question: How has satellite mapping affected plats?
Rustin: Since the 1990s with the use of GPS, satellite mapping has improved surveying practices but problems with old plats may still happen. Generally, the older the plat, and the more rural the location, the more likely the plat contains errors.
There are many reasons for this:
• surveying technology is more sophisticated than when the plat was originally done;
• surveyor training and education has improved (particularly in rural areas);
• land often becomes further subdivided, creating more chances for conflicts with other plats;
• surveying pins and markers, and old landmarks (trees, rivers, ponds, shorelines, fences, structures, and roads) are moved naturally or by people;
• tracts that are large, or hilly, or have a lot of trees are more susceptible to dispute because they are tough to perceive as a whole on the ground;
• And it used to be much easier to intentionally manipulate surveys than it is today.
An interesting note: Previously, mappers used to intentionally put incorrect or odd things on maps to make it easy to catch someone violating copyright laws. There is a famous small town in New York state that a mapper invented for this purpose. It actually ended up becoming a real town because the spot happened to be near an intersection, so people thought it already existed and began developing it.
Question: With satellite mapping making boundaries more precise what are today’s disputes about?
Rustin: Nowadays, with improvements in mapping, disputes over plats often do not involve the location of the boundaries, but instead involve notes and comments on the plat about neighbors’ rights, which courts must consider together with deeds and other agreements to resolve disputes over access.
An extreme example is a case in Michigan. There were various disputes among 655 parties in a subdivision near a lake. The plat created an issue as to public versus private beach access rights. The case had nothing to do with boundary lines but concerned neighbors’ rights listed in the plat. In light of technological improvements in mapping, this is the kind of issue that is more common than a boundary line issue.
That is an extreme case but as we know lakefront property has always been coveted. Areas around lakes are frequently platted, often decades ago. Dedicated areas, and even areas described but not dedicated in the plat, may give rise to both public and private rights that are at odds with a purchaser’s expectations. These platted areas will likely not be disclosed by walking the property, by an appraisal or even a survey.
If property is platted there is no substitute for reviewing the plat map and understanding the nature of any private or public rights that might interfere with your expectations.