Why Should You Ask for a Certificate of Location Before Buying?

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The housing market is booming. Houses sell soon after listing. This puts pressures on buyers to act quickly. Some can be tempted to try to save time and not ask for a certificate of location. This could backfire!

Know what you’re buying

A certificate of location (a land survey) is a written report with a map. It lets you know exactly what you’re buying and answers several questions. For example:

Questions

Why is it important to know the answer?

Does it follow municipal rules?

Municipalities generally have the power to order a property owner to move or demolish any part of a building that breaks the rules.

What’s the real boundary line between the property you’re buying and that of your future neighbours? 

You might be buying something that’s smaller than you think. For example, a neighbour might surprise you with legal proceedings because one of your buildings is on their property.

Are some strangers allowed on the property? Where can they go?

You may have to allow people with a right of passage onto your property.

Is the property in a flood zone or at risk from landslides?

Houses in flood zones or areas with landslides can be at great risk. They may also be hard to insure, which is generally one of the conditions of getting a mortgage.

Getting an overall view

A certificate of location is valid until one of the following:

  • The property is changed, municipal regulations are modified, or the property’s cadastral lot number is changed.
  • The certificate of location is more than 10 years old.

An expired certificate of location is no longer “up to date” and does not accurately describe the state of the property. This means that it can be incomplete or hide problems that a newer certificate of location would reveal.

Title insurance instead?

You may be asked to substitute title insurance for a certificate of location. Title insurance will compensate you if there is a problem that impacts your rights on the property. For example, if the municipality forces you to move your garage, title insurance can pay for the costs of the move.

However, title insurance has limits. For example, it does not cover problems with fences, hedges, low walls, or with violations of environmental protection laws and regulations.

Title insurance will not protect you against these problems, which would have been revealed by a certificate of location.