HOMEFINDER: Surveyors all about setting boundaries

Most people will get to know a surveyor when it comes time to buy a house and determine just what their new property lines really are.

Muliawan Koesoema

The typical land surveyor is often spotted on the side of a roadway or corner of a property under development, looking through a sight mounted to a tripod.

Yet, according to the Association of B.C. Land Surveyors, based in Sidney, their 336 practicing members are essential to the success of industries like oil and gas. Most people, however, will get to know them when it comes time to buy a house and determine just what their new property lines really are.

Chuck Salmon, association secretary, registrar and treasurer (he’s also the former B.C. Surveyor-General and is an association life member), says the people behind the transit (the tripod device for those following along at home) might not necessarily be a land surveyor, but one of the hundreds of support staff and apprentices on the job.

And those devices they use are so precise these days that they can pinpoint property lines via satellite and GPS. That means your yard’s actual boundaries can be applied to the face of the earth for increased accuracy.

Gone are the days of using white wooden posts to mark a property’s boundaries. While monuments are still in use, Salmon said, they are iron posts, which last longer.

Where many property owners see surveyors, adds Chad Rintoul, chief administrative officer of the Association, is along fence lines.

“That’s  a typical call to this office,” Rintoul said. “It’s a common mistake to assume a fence is actually on the legal property line, or that what’s on your side of the fence is your property and on the other side is your neighbour’s property.”

That’s why, he continued, it’s a good idea to have a property properly surveyed prior to purchasing it.

Surveyors, say Salmon and Rintoul, are the people who define property boundaries in the first place. Often, land titles are based on those measurements. And once they are set, a surveyor uses local government regulations to determine where a house or commercial building can go, to comply with setbacks or other rules.

Salmon said at this level, a surveyor only works with facts. It’s up to developers or politicians to determine variances to existing rules.

“You may see special interests on either side of a development,” said Rintoul. “The surveyor is completely neutral. The legal property boundary is the legal property boundary and we must follow our professional standards and code of conduct.”

Their jobs go beyond back yards, however. Salmon said  surveyors can determine waterfront property lines (even the boundaries of water-based features) and review how air space (or building heights) impact the neighbouring view corridors.

In the resource sector, Salmon said surveyors have a big role in public safety — such as determining the best paths for pipeline rights-of-way. The correct placement of oil rigs or pumps, too, require a proper topographical survey to ensure they are built in the right place.

Even in the realm of First Nations treaty settlement, Rintoul added, surveyors have a role in setting out the boundaries of traditional territories.

“There’s a pretty broad spectrum of work that our members do.” Salmon said.

The Association of B.C. Land Surveyors has been in Sidney since 2006. They follow the provincial land surveyors act, which was established 110 years ago (it’s the anniversary this year, added Salmon).