Right-Of-Entry or Not: Can a Surveyor Legally Enter Your Property?

Land Surveyor 492641503
Land Surveyor. Getty / Vladmir Godnik

Can a surveyor of private property legally come onto neighboring properties?  You may be surprised by the answer.

What Is Being Surveyed? 

A surveyor doesn't just need access to the property he has been contracted to survey.  He needs access to bordering properties, as well.

Owners of those bordering properties usually have nothing to do with the property being surveyed and have no motive to allow access to their own property.  

Sometimes, though, there might be projects, namely, fence construction, when both owners have a shared interest.  

Often the owner of the property being surveyed might be putting in a pool or outbuilding near property lines or is building upward and outward to maximum limits (a home remodel we see so much of nowadays).  In this case, the neighbor has nothing to do with the project, though he/she might be concerned about being encroached upon.

Trespass or Not?  It Depends on Your State

As it turns out, that surveyor either has a clear legal right to your property or is trespassing.  States may have their own right of entry laws that allow a surveyor to access bordering properties.

For example, in New York State, this is allowed under N.Y. GOB. LAW § 9-105, stating that

the land surveyor and authorized agents or employees of any such land surveyor may enter upon or cross any lands necessary to perform surveying services

How did all of this come about?  Through the concerted efforts of a lobbying group and a law firm.  The New York Association of Professional Land Surveyors (NYAPLS), working with the White Plains, NY law firm of Wilson Elser, pushed this forward until it was signed into law by Governor Pataki in 2005.

In your own state, that's most likely how surveyors will gain access to your property--only after a special interest group pushes the matter into law.

What Can It Hurt?

Two dangers of professional surveyors entering your private property:  injury to the surveyor and damage to your property.

Surveyors are concerned about holding professional liability insurance (E & O) in the event that they make a mistake that costs their client.  It's also recommended that they hold general liability insurance.  But in the states that I researched, none require any kind of insurance as a prerequisite for licensing.  

If a surveyor moves around your property and injures himself--and he is not covered by his own insurance--you are responsible.  The surveyor may sue you because that ladder you were using to paint your house fell on his head.

Your property may be damaged, as well.  Using the New York example again, the right-of-entry law does not "remove civil liability for damage," meaning that you, the neighbor, can sue the surveyor if he manages to damage your property in the course of his professional activities.  

Kick 'Em Off Your Land!

Do you believe a surveyor is trespassing on your property?

Search for "[your state] surveyor right of entry" to see if your state allows surveyors to access your land.  Unfortunately, there is not a single source for information about this.  Not only that, your Internet search may turn up a patchwork of special interest group initiatives, proposed laws, and enacted laws.  You will need to sift through this information to see if a law has been enacted.

Even if surveyors do have this legal right, it's not as if they can saunter onto your land whenever they wish.  Oregon §672.047, like New York, allows surveyors right of entry.  But unlike New York's law, which vaguely says that surveyors must give "reasonable notice" of the survey, Oregon surveyors must provide notice at least 7 days in advance, either by mail or personally.

In short:  If your state does not have right-of-entry laws, you are not required to let surveyors onto your land. 

Don't Kick 'Em Off Your Land!

There are many reasons why you might allow a neighbor's surveyor on your land.  For one, you might simply wish to be neighborly.  Or, as mentioned earlier with the fence, you might have common interests.

Another reason?  Survey karma.  If you're the put-upon neighbor today, things might be reversed in the future--you need a survey of your own property.

Or you might find, via your neighbor's survey, that you have more land than you thought you did.  It happens.

One of the smarter, more nuanced takes on the issue is from Robert Dean, PLS, in his article Right of Entry?  Dean is concerned with both his profession's need to enter neighboring properties and with private property rights.  He proposes 

an hourly fee, equivalent to the surveyor’s usual crew rate, for the time the surveyor, personnel, materials, or equipment, spends occupying the soil of the third party property

This might be one solution to this problem.  The surveyor and client are taking something from you, the neighbor--access to your land for a period of time.  Why shouldn't they have to pay for it, much as churches or fraternal organizations charge groups nominal fees to access their land and structures?