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Tax Maps and Zoning Maps - How Far Can You Trust Elected Officials?

This question sounds like the punchline to a bad political joke, but the true answer is of real interest to surveyors and other land use professionals who utilize tax maps or zoning maps. This case involved a landowner who called a county official to find out the current zoning on a parcel in South Carolina. The landowner relied on an inaccurate written statement from the official and the error went unnoticed for several years. When the error was discovered - to the detriment of the landowner - the court concluded that the landowner should not have relied on statements from government officials but rather have consulted the zoning map directly.

In Carolina Chloride, Inc. v. Richland County: 394 S.C. 154 (2011), the court defended the government employee with the following statement: "To subject county officials to the prospect of liability for innocent misrepresentation would discourage their participation in local government or inhibit them from discharging responsibilities inherent in their offices. Their reluctance to express opinions would frustrate dialogue which is indispensable to the ongoing operation of government."

The court concedes the "unfortunate mistake" but concludes that all persons should know the law and should not rely on unsupported statements by government officials. The clear lesson here is to check the official record rather than relying on a middleman.

Government officials may provide information informally by phone or email, or direct you to a third-party on-line resource that is not representative of the official public record. Land use professionals should rely only on sources recognized by legal authority. (Updated June 9, 2019)

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