If you previously bought or sold property you likely saw a Survey.  A Survey is a detailed description of real estate that includes the land’s boundaries, building lines, improvements, and any easements or encroachments recorded on the property.

Every property in Illinois is identified by a common address and a legal description.  The common address is mostly associated with a mailing address.  Legal descriptions are more exact.  They identify the specific lot number, location, and property measurements.

Surveys in Illinois must be performed by Professional Licensed Surveyors.  Surveyors start with the legal description to identify the boundaries for the parcel of property.  The legal description will also allow the Surveyor to search the history of documents recorded with the county in which the property is located.  This search reveals any building lines, easements, or encroachments that are related to the property.

Next, the Surveyor is likely to visit the property and perform measurements.  He or she wants to obtain precise information on all the property’s buildings, where they are located, and if they violate any building lines or easements recorded on the property that were revealed by the county search.

A building line prohibits structures from being constructed within a certain distance from the street or neighbor’s property.  Building lines are usually mandated by the municipality where the property is located and prevent a newly erected structure from damaging the market value of nearby properties.

Easements give another party certain rights to the searched property.  A common example of an easement is for utility or cable companies.  Modern technology allows electrical, cable, and other wires to be placed underground.  These wires may run underneath portions of property.  Utility and cable companies need to be able to fix, repair, or update their equipment.  As a result, they may be granted an easement to perform this work.

Encroachments can be violations of a building line or easement.  There may be a bay window added to the house or a shed that was constructed over a building line.  Alternatively, someone may have built a fence that runs along an easement designated for a public utility company.  It is also possible for an encroachment to come from the surveyed property onto that of a neighbor.

All these potential issues will be raised on a Survey when the specific property is bought or sold.  Insurance related to marketability of the property is unlikely to cover encroachments over a building line or easement.  As a result, you may be responsible for removing the encroachment if it causes an issue with the municipality that imposed the building line or holder of the violated easement.

It is generally a good idea to obtain a Survey when buying property.  First, most property sales have the seller pay for the Survey (approximately $500).  Second, the Survey will alert you to any encroachments over building lines or easements that you might be responsible to remove.

Sometimes Surveys come back “clear.”  In other words, there are no encroachments over a property’s building lines or easements.  But the only way to be sure is to demand the property’s seller provide a Survey for your attorney to review.  Surveys allow negotiations over how to resolve any encroachments, and you will be familiar with the rules of home additions or structures that may or may not be built upon the property.

Having a good attorney can help understanding the details of a Survey.  It can clear up confusion you may have as a property owner so you do not have to face a lawsuit down the road.

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