# CHAPTER 4 LEGAL DESCRIPTION OF LAND DESCRIBING LAND METHODS OF DESCRIBING REAL ESTATE

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1 r CHAPTER 4 LEGAL DESCRIPTION OF LAND DESCRIBING LAND A legal description is a detailed way of describing a parcel of land for documents such as deeds and mortgages that will be accepted in a court of law. The description is based on information collected through a survey, the process by which boundaries are measured by calculating the dimensions and area to determine the exact location of a piece of land. Courts have stated that a description is legally sufficient if it allows a surveyor to locate the parcel. In this context, locate means that the surveyor must be able to define the exact boundaries of the property. A street address will not tell a surveyor how large the property is or where it begins and ends. Several alternative systems of identification have been developed to express a legal description of real estate. METHODS OF DESCRIBING REAL ESTATE Three basic methods can be used to describe real estate: 1. Metes and bounds 2. Rectangular (or government) survey 3. Lot and block (recorded plat) Although each method can be used independently, the methods may be combined in some situations. Some states use only one method; others use all three. Metes-and-bounds descriptions were used in the original thirteen colonies and in those states that were being settled while the rectangular survey system was being developed. Today, as technology allows for greater precision and expanded record keeping, there is greater integration of land description information. Metes-and-Bounds Method 91

2 The metes-and-bounds method is the oldest type of legal description. Metes means distance, and bounds means compass directions or angles. A metes-and-bounds description always starts at a designated place on the parcel, called the point of beginning (POB). From there, the surveyor proceeds around the property's boundaries. The boundaries are recorded by referring to linear measurements, natural and artificial landmarks (called monuments), and directions. A metes-and-bounds description always ends back at the POB so that the tract being described is completely enclosed. Monuments are fixed objects used to identify the POB, the ends of boundary segments, or the location of intersecting boundaries. A monument may be a natural object, such as a stone, large tree, lake, or stream. It may also be a man-made object, such as a street, highway, fence, canal, or markers (iron pins or concrete posts) placed by surveyors. Measurements often include the words "more or less" because the location of the monuments is more important than the distances given in the wording. In other words, the actual distance between monuments takes precedence over any linear measurements in the description. Metes-and-bounds descriptions are used in Illinois when describing irregular tracts, portions of a recorded lot, or fractions of a section. Such descriptions always incorporate the rectangular survey method and refer to the section, township, range, and principal meridian of the land. Rectangular (Government) Survey System The rectangular survey system, sometimes called the government survey system, was established by Congress in 1785 to standardize the description of land acquired by the newly formed federal government. This system is based on two sets of intersecting lines: principal meridians and base lines. Some features of the Rectangular Survey System : The principal meridians run north and south. The base lines run east and west. Both are located by reference to degrees of longitude and latitude. Each principal meridian has a name or number and is crossed by a base line. Each principal meridian and its corresponding base line are used to survey a definite area of land, indicated on the map by boundary lines. There are 37 principal meridians in the United States. Each principal meridian describes only specific areas of land by boundaries. No parcel of land is described by reference to more than one principal meridian. The meridian used is not necessarily the nearest one. Locations in Illinois are described by their relation to one of three meridians 2, 3 and 4. Note that only two of these three meridians actually run through Illinois (3 and 4), but nevertheless all are sometimes referenced in legal descriptions for Illinois properties. The Second Principal Meridian is located in Indiana and controls that portion of Illinois lying south and east of Kankakee. The Third Principal Meridian begins at Cairo, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and extends northward toward Wisconsin and near Rockford to the Illinois-Wisconsin border. 9 2

3 The Fourth Principal Meridian begins near Beardstown and extends northward to the Canadian border. Surveys of land located in the western portion of Illinois use a base line for the Fourth Principal Meridian at Beardstown. Surveys of land in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota are made from the Fourth Principal Meridian using a base line that is on the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Not all property is described by reference to the nearest principal meridian. A property on the western border of the Third Principal Meridian and just west of Rockford will be described by reference to the Fourth Principal Meridian. There are no options with regard to the meridians and base lines used to describe a particular property; once made, a legal description is not changed. Further divisions are used in the same way as monuments in the metes-and-bounds method. They are: townships, ranges, sections, and quarter-section lines. Township Tiers Lines running east and west, parallel to the base line and six miles apart, are referred to as township lines. They form strips of land called township tiers. These township tiers are designated by consecutive numbers north or south of the base line. For instance, the strip of land between 6 and 12 miles north of a base line is Township 2 North. PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN Townships 6 mile wide tier strips Tier lines parallel to the Base Line BASE LINE Range lines parallel to the Principal Meridian 6 mile wide range strips 6 MILE SQUARE TOWNSHIP 36 SQUARE MILES 93

4 Township Ranges The land on either side of a principal meridian is divided into six mile-wide strips by lines running north and south, parallel to the meridian. These north-south strips of land are called ranges. They are designated by consecutive numbers east or west of the principal meridian. For example, Range 3 East would be a strip of land between 12 and 18 miles east of its principal meridian. Township Squares When the horizontal township lines and the vertical range lines intersect, they form squares. The 6 miles square areas are called Townships. These township squares are the basic units of the rectangular survey system. Townships are six miles square and contain 36 square miles (23,040 acres). For this discussion, the word township used by itself refers only to the township squares formed by the vertical range lines intersecting the tiers. Each township is given a legal description. The township's description includes the following: Designation of the township tier in which the township is located Designation of the range strip Name or number of the principal meridian for that area Sections Some features of Townships: Each township contains 36 sections. Each section is one square mile, or 640 acres. Sections are numbered 1 through 36. Section 1 is always in the northeast, or upper right-hand, corner. The numbering proceeds right to left (backward), beginning in the upper right-hand corner. From there, the numbers drop down to the next tier and continue from left to right, then back from right again to left. By law, each section number 16 is set aside for school purposes. The sale or rental proceeds from section 16 were originally available for township school use. The schoolhouse was often located in this section so it would be centrally located for all of the students in the township. As a result, Section 16 is always referred to as the school section. Correction Lines Range lines are parallel only in theory. Due to the curvature of the earth, range lines gradually approach each other. If they are extended northward, they eventually meet at the North Pole. The fact that the earth is not flat, combined with the crude instruments used in early days, means that few townships are exactly six-mile squares or contain exactly 36 square miles. The system compensates for this "round earth problem" with correction lines. Every fourth township line, 9 4

5 both north and south of the base line, is designated a correction line. On each correction line, the range lines are measured to the full distance of six miles apart. Guide meridians run north and south at 24-mile intervals from the principal meridian. Fractional sections and government lots Undersized or oversized sections are classified as fractional sections. Fractional sections may occur for a number of reasons. In some areas, for instance, the rectangular survey may have been made by separate crews, and gaps less than a section wide remained when the surveys met. Other errors may have resulted from the physical difficulties encountered in the actual survey. For example, part of a section may be submerged in water. Reading a rectangular survey description To determine the location and size of a property described in the rectangular (or government) survey style, start at the end and work backward to the beginning. In other words, analyze the legal description right to left. See the Math Section to determine how to calculate property sizes. In general, if a rectangular survey description does not use the conjunction and or a semicolon (indicating two or more parcels are combined), the longer the description, the smaller the tract of land it describes. Legal descriptions should always include the name of the county and state in which the land is located because meridians often relate to more than one state and occasionally relate to two base lines. Metes-and-bounds descriptions within the rectangular survey system Land in states that use the rectangular survey system also may require a metes-and-bounds description. This usually occurs in one of three situations: 1. when describing an irregular tract, 2. when a tract is too small to be described by quarter-sections, 3. when a tract does not follow the lot or block lines of a recorded subdivision or section, quarter-section lines, or other fractional section lines. Metes-and-bounds descriptions may be included in the rectangular survey system used in Illinois when describing irregular or small tracts. Lot-and-Block System The third method of legal description is the lot-and-block (recorded plat) system. This system uses lot-andblock numbers referred to in a plat map filed in the public records of the county where the land is located. The lot-and-block system is often used to describe property in subdivisions and urban areas. A lot-and-block survey is performed in two steps : 1. First, a large parcel of land is described either by metes and bounds or by rectangular survey. 2. Once this large parcel is surveyed, it is broken into smaller parcels. As a result, a lot-and-block legal description is always a smaller part of a metes-and-bounds or rectangular survey description. For each parcel described under the lot-and-block system, the lot refers to the numerical designation of any particular parcel. The block refers to a large part of the subdivision under which the map is 9 5

6 recorded. When properly signed and approved, the subdivision plat is recorded in the county in which the land is located. The plat becomes part of the legal description. In describing a lot from a recorded subdivision plat, three identifiers are used: 1. Lot-and-block number 2. Name or number of the subdivision plat 3. Name of the county and state Illinois Plat Act Under the Illinois Plat Act, when an owner divides a parcel of land into two or more parts, any of which is less than five acres, the parts must be surveyed and a plat of subdivision recorded. An exception to this would be the division of lots or blocks of less than one acre in any recorded subdivision that does not involve the creation of any new streets or easements of access. When a conveyance is made, the county recorder may require an affidavit that an exception exists. The provisions of the Illinois Plat Act are complicated and subject to interpretation by each county recorder. Anyone attempting to record a document conveying land should consult a lawyer and the county recorder about the requirements involved. L e g a l D e s c r i p t i o n s A Licensed surveyor is the only one responsible for preparing a Legal Description. The legal description is part of a Survey. This legal description is then copied into the Deed and Title Insurance documents on closing of a real estate sale. Legal descriptions should be copied with extreme care. An incorrectly worded legal description in a sales contract may result in a conveyance of more or less land than the parties intended. For example, damages suffered from an incorrect description could be extensive if buildings and improvements need to be moved because the land upon which the improvements were made is not owned. Often, even punctuation is extremely critical. The SURVEY shows the location and dimensions of the parcel and the legal description. A SPOT SURVEY shows the location and dimensions of the parcel and legal description, as well as the location, size, and shape of buildings and other improvements on the parcel. As a result, a SPOT SURVEY shows all easements and possible encroachments of improvements onto the surveyed property or encroachments of improvements on the surveyed property onto an adjoining property, and is required by a lender before closing a sale transaction. Legal descriptions should not be altered or combined without adequate information from a surveyor or title attorney. The surveyor does this by preparing two documents: a boundary survey and a legal description. It is very important for real estate licensees to be aware of various surveys and their uses. Not all surveys include surveyor liability and warranties of accuracy. Some surveys, such as an Improvement Location Certificate (ILC), are not full surveys. ILCs are prepared in a shorter time frame and at less cost, providing only the location of the structures and improvements as related to property boundaries. 96

7 Elevations Just as surface rights must be identified, surveyed, and described, so must rights to the property above the earth's surface. Elevations are measured to determine the legal descriptions of air rights and condominium apartments. As discussed earlier, land includes the space above the ground. In the same way land may be measured and divided into parcels, the air itself may be divided. An owner may subdivide the air above his land into air lots. Air lots are composed of the airspace within specific boundaries located over a parcel of land. The condominium laws passed in all states require that a registered land surveyor prepare a plat map that shows the elevations of floor and ceiling surfaces and the vertical boundaries of each unit with reference to an official datum. A unit's floor, for instance, might be 60 feet above the datum, and its ceiling, 69 feet. Typically, a separate plat is prepared for each floor in the condominium building. Subsurface rights can be legally described in the same manner as air rights. They are measured below the datum rather than above it. Subsurface rights are used not only for coal mining, petroleum drilling, and utility line location but also for multistory condominiums both residential and commercial that have several floors below ground level. DATUM A datum is a point, line, or surface from which elevations are measured or indicated. For the purpose of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), datum is defined as the mean sea level at New York Harbor. However, virtually all large cities have local official datum that is used instead of the USGS datum. A surveyor would use a datum in determining the height of a structure or establishing the grade of a street. The general datum plane used by Illinois surveyors is the USGS datum. Land Measurements Mile Square Mile Acre Square Yard Cubic Yard Square Foot Township Section 5,280 Feet 640 Acres 43,560 Square Feet 9 Square Feet 27 Cubic Feet 144 Square Inches 36 Square Miles, 6 miles square 1 Square Mile, 640 Acres 9 7

8 Notes: 98

9 CHAPTER 4 QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY CHAPTER 4 - QUESTIONS 1. The following legal description contains how many acres: the South 1/2 of the SE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 7? A. 0 B. 80 C. 5 D A metes and bounds legal description A. can be made only in areas excluded from the rectangular survey system B. Is not acceptable in court in most jurisdictions C. Must commence and finish at the same identifiable point D. Is used to complete areas omitted from recorded subdivision plats 3. A township contains all of the following EXCEPT: A. 6 miles x 6 miles B. 640 acres C. Section 16 D. 36 sections 4. Strips of land six miles wide that run north and south are called: A. Tiers B. Ranges C. Latitudes D. Longitudes 5. The system of legal descriptions that defines a parcel of land by its perimeter is the: A. Geodetic survey B. Rectangular survey C. Lot and block system D. Metes and bounds system 6. The primary survey line running east and west in the rectangular survey system is the: A. Township line B. Base line C. Range line D. Principal meridian 99

10 CHAPTER 4 QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY 7. How many acres are in a description reading "The NW 1/4 of the SE 1/4 and the S 1/2 of the SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 4"? A. 40 acres B. 50 acres C. 60 acres D. 80 acres 8. The numbering of sections in a township begins in the section in the: A. northeast corner then runs easterly. B. northwest corner then runs easterly. C. northeast corner then runs westerly. D. northwest corner then runs westerly. 9. A particular parcel of land is described by reference to how many principal meridians? A. 0 B. 1 C. 2 D A parcel of land described as "the NW 1/4 and the SW 1/4 of Section 6, T4N, R8W of the Third Principal Meridian" was sold for \$875 per acre. The listing broker will receive a 5 percent commission on the total sales price. How much will the broker receive? A. \$1,750 B. \$5,040 C. \$14,000 D. \$15, A township contains: A. 6 square miles. B. 640 acres. C. 23,040 square feet. D. 36 sections. 12. The section of land reserved for school purposes in the rectangular survey system is section: A. 12. B. 16. C. 20. D A lot-and-block legal description must: A. cover an area larger than 10 acres. B. be used in areas not covered by the rectangular survey system. C. refer to a registered subdivision plat map. D. always use north as the basis for directions. I00

11 CHAPTER 4 QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY 14. Which of the following parcels of land is the smallest? A. Two sections B. Five percent of a section C. Two square miles D. 1,280 acres 15. The primary survey line running north and south in the rectangular survey system is the: A. township line. B. base line. C. range line. D. principal meridian. 16. A recorded subdivision plat is used in the: A. geodetic survey system. B. rectangular survey system. C. lot-and-block system. D. metes-and-bounds system. 17. A land survey would best be described as a: A. legal description of the land. B. graphic description of the land. C. narrative description of the land. D. visual description of the land. 18. A section: A. is one mile square. B. contains 460 acres. C. has a perimeter of 5,280 square feet. D. can be numbered from 1 through The rectangular survey system section contains: A. 36 townships. B. 160 government lots. C. 160 acres. D. 640 acres. 20. The method of describing land by degrees, feet and monuments is known as the: A. angular system. B. metes-and-bounds system. C. rectangular survey system. D. lots-and-blocks system. 101

12 CHAPTER 4 QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY 21. The datum plane used by Illinois surveyors is: A. USS B. USGS C. Lot and block D. Principal meridian 22. Which of the following is the best way to ensure that there are no encroachments and verify the boundaries of a parcel of land? A. Write a legal description. B. Get a spot survey. C. Find the monuments. D. Verify the benchmarks. 23. The owner has a large parcel of land surveyed into lots and streets and files a subdivision plat. Each lot can be legally described by use of which of the following? A. Street address B. Government survey C. Metes and bounds D. Lots and blocks 24. One tract of land contains 25 acres. An adjoining tract of land is 1 square mile. The owners agreed to sell for \$1,500 per acre. What was the total price of the 2 lots? A. \$ 37,500 B. \$960,000 C. \$979,500 D. \$997, An area of land that is two miles by three miles contains how many acres? A. 10,560 B. 18,540 C. 3,840 D. 16, All of the following meridians are located within the boundaries of Illinois, EXCEPT the: A. Second Principal Meridian. B. Third Principal Meridian. C. Fourth Principal Meridian. D. Third and Fourth Principal Meridians. 27. Under the Illinois Plat Act, when an owner divides a parcel of land into two or more parts, each must be surveyed separately if any of them are less than how many acres? A. 3 B. 5 C. 7 D

13 CHAPTER 4 - QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY CHAPTER 4 - QUESTIONS ANSWER KEY 1. - C 2. - C B B 5. C - D B 7. - C 8. - C 9. - B C D B C B D C A A D B B B D D C A B 103

14 CHAPTER 4 - QUESTIONS & ANSWER KEY Notes: 104

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