Land surveying in Quebec: What is a land survey and why do you need one?

Updated March 23, 2023

Ever wonder who those helmeted people are, setting up a tripod on the sidewalk with a strange-looking camera? They are land surveyors. One of the requirements of buying, selling, or building a house is getting a land survey or certificate of localization. But what exactly is this essential document? Why and when do you need to get one, and where do you get it?

Read on to find out about land surveying and land surveyors.

Surveyor with theodolite

What is a land survey?

A land survey is a drawing of the boundaries and square footage of a property. It also shows the dimensions and location of any buildings or easements on the property. These boundaries help establish ownership of the property and can be used to settle disputes between property owners.

Land surveying was developed in ancient Egypt to re-establish agricultural boundaries following the annual flooding of the Nile. While the ancient Egyptians used a simple rope-stretcher to measure dimensions, modern-day surveyors use high-tech equipment like GPS and 3D scanners.

In Quebec, the profession of land surveyor is regulated by the Ordre des Arpenteurs-Géomètres du Québec (OAGQ). To operate in the province, a land surveyor must be a member of this association.

Why and when do you need a land survey?

Here are some of the main reasons for obtaining a land survey:

  1. Mortgage requirements: If you are seeking a mortgage or refinancing your current mortgage, you will need a certificate of localization. This is a legal document through which a land surveyor states his or her professional opinion of the land’s condition. Within the framework of a real estate transaction, it guarantees that the property is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. It provides the mortgage company with the necessary security to finance the property. Section 1719 of the Civil Code of Quebec stipulates that the seller must provide the buyer with a copy of the certificate of localization.
  2. Establishing property lines: If you are planning on building a new structure on your property, such as a fence, you need to make sure that you are not building on a neighbour’s property or on an easement. A land survey will show the property lines and help you avoid what could be a nasty (and costly) dispute. The survey document will also protect you in a dispute with any neighbour or utility building a structure that protrudes onto your property.
  3. Locating utilities: This is particularly important if you are digging to build a fence or for landscaping purposes. An up-to-date land survey will show the location of any utility lines, such as a gas line. Before you dig, contact your local utility company. They will send a technician to mark the location of any service lines.
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Who performs a land survey?

a surveyor's theodolite

In Quebec, land surveyors are public officers and are the only professionals authorized by the Land Surveyors Act to provide a certificate of localization. They must also be a member in good standing of the aforementioned OAGQ.

A land surveyor is an expert in property boundaries and geomatics. Geomatics is the modern discipline which integrates the tasks of gathering, storing, processing, modeling, analyzing, and delivering spatially referenced or location information.

A land surveyor has many important responsibilities:

  • Performing land surveys on public, private and commercial property.
  • Examining and analyzing titles and other landholding documents.
  • By way of a certificate of localization, expressing his or her opinion on the condition of the land with respect to titles, the land register and applicable laws and regulations.
  • Marking out property boundaries.
  • Writing technical descriptions for parcels of land intended for mining, borders, administrative boundaries, easements, agricultural zoning, etc.
  • Verifying and calibrating various surveying and geodetic instruments, such as tape, telemeters, levels, theodolites and gyroscopes.

Commonly asked questions

How much does a land survey cost?

The OAGQ recommends a fee of $1,405 for a certificate of localization for an urban detached house (not including applicable taxes). Fees vary depending on the type of property and the region.

Do I need a survey for home insurance?

You don’t need a land survey when you buy home insurance in Quebec. Your home insurance provider really only needs to know the address of your home—your policy will cover the premises at that address. If there are any issues with the measurement of your property lines, it won’t fall under home insurance coverage anyway.

Accordingly, you may wish to have a survey done when you buy a new house (or ask the seller for a survey certificate). Even if you buy title insurance, you may not have coverage for issues arising from incorrect measurement of the property lines.

I am putting up a fence on my property. Do I need to get a new certificate of localization?

Your certificate of localization becomes invalid if you make any changes to your property, such as adding a shed or installing a fence. It can also be invalidated by changes to municipal bylaws or even a change of lot number. If you are not sure about the status of your certificate, consult a notary or a land surveyor.

Do I need a certificate of localization for a condo?

Yes. A certificate of localization is required for a condo sale or mortgage. There are some differences compared to surveying a house, but a land surveyor will have to visit the premises, nonetheless.

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