ALTA Surveys – Public Roads vs. Private Roads

March 18, 2019

When purchasing property, one of the major concerns for the buyers, lenders and title companies is the access to the public roadway. When an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey is prepared per Section 5.B of the Minimum Standards, the surveyor is responsible for reporting necessary information regarding road access in a way that is easily understood.

The survey should clearly state whether the property in question has direct access to a dedicated “Public” street or is using a “Private” roadway to gain access to public roads. In order to clearly identify the type of access, the surveyor will typically label the street by name and then state “Public” or “Private” thereafter.

Public Roads vs. Private Roads: What Does This Mean?

  • “Public” Roadway: is an indication that the road is being maintained by a governing authority which could be the city, county, state, etc.
  • “Private” Roadway: this means that the roadway has not been dedicated or accepted as something to be maintained by the public authority.

In most cases if a roadway is identified as “Private” the subject parcel may have a right to use the roadway through beneficial easement rights, reciprocal easement rights, or a percentage of ownership of the private roadway that may be shared by all those using it for access. A good example of the latter is condominiums with ownership of common areas affording access by all owners. If the right exists, the subject property may be obligated to maintain the “Private” road.

It’s important to note that it is not the responsibility of the surveyor to determine whether the rights to use “Private” roadways exist, but rather to show that access to the property is attained by use of the same. If the property does have the rights for use of a “Private” roadway, the surveyor may be made aware by a review of the title commitment if the rights are so stated or by field observation then noted by the surveyor.

If the use of the “Private” road(s) is granted through a beneficial easement right, it may be important to include Optional Table A Item 19, which requires the surveyor to survey the easement right to understand what is transpiring within. Without Optional Table A Item 19, the surveyor’s responsibility is only to report and show the limits or boundary of the easement. When only the limits of the easement are shown, it’s hard to determine whether there is really an improved roadway within the right giving access to a “Public” road, or whether access is impeded by an improvement within the easement such as a building or a fence.

It’s important to note that Optional Table A Item 19 may be costly if the appurtenant right was granted over a large parcel of land, such as a shopping center or another phase of a multi-family community. Outparcels to shopping centers would most likely have appurtenant rights over the entirety of a shopping center to use the private roadways throughout the development.

A definition of responsibility given to the surveyor to provide notations or other maps, etc. with regard to access over “Private” road areas, can be designed and written under Optional Table A Item 21 of the Minimum Standards to potentially save money and time. NV5/Bock & Clark’s Project Managers are experienced with situations such as these and can provide suggestions to help in any way possible.

Are you interested in learning more about our ALTA Surveys? Request a quote today, or contact us for more information.