Type of Land Descriptions

a) Metes and bounds. The term metes means “measure” and the term bounds means the limits or boundaries of a tract of land Although common usage places a number of types of description in this category, strictly speaking a metes and bounds description is one that in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction, recites courses, distances, monuments and abutting parcels as they are the encountered, and returns to the point of beginning. Generally, the description recites the area of the parcel so traversed. The theoretical parcel description should contain all of the above elements; however, the typical description includes some combination of the foregoing elements, with some information often lacking.

Fig 4.1.Description by metes and bounds
The Metes and bounds description remains common today in the eastern United States and Canada, termed the “metes and bounds states” Smaller, irregular parcels lend themselves readily to this type of description, explaining its frequency in certain circumstances within the U.S. public Land Survey System. Certain types of land parcels within that system traditionally have been described this way, as demonstrated in Figure4.1.

b)- Abutters. Also known as reference to adjoining lands, a description by abutters is one that calls primarily for adjoining parcels, although it may have an occasional corner monument call. As such, the abutting parcels are considered to be monuments. Although the abutting description insures that there are no gaps or overlaps, it has two inherent problems. First, and perhaps the least troublesome (although requiring considerable effort for the surveyor), is that the abutting ownerships called for are usually many years out of date-often a hundred years or more. This means that one must research the current ownership of abutting parcels back to the point in time when the researcher is certain that the parcels were owned by the persons called for; only by doing so can one insure that the calls are satisfied. Second, the literal interpretation of an abutting description can generate many possible outcomes. Generally, however, when drawing a picture of the parcel, the surveyor should take a strict literal interpretation; refinement can occur later as one gathers additional information.

Fig. 4.2. Description by abutting ownership

c)- Lot and range. A number of towns and townships originally were laid out in regular design-usually in rectangles, sometimes in squares or parallelograms, and occasionally in triangles. Initial conveyances, particularly original grants to proprietors, consisted of original lots or parts thereof. Subsequently, depending on the area and extent of conveyances, these lots have been subdivided further into regular parts thereof, or into smaller parcels described by metes and bounds. In some areas, descriptions continue in terms of lots or parts thereof.
The complication presented by this type of description is that one must know the original lotting scheme. Each town was lotted independently, and each one is likely to be different from any of the abutting towns. Many lotted towns are very unique in design, as there was no set lotting pattern. The shape of the town, the terrain, the number of original grantees or proprietors, and the instructions given to the surveyors or the “lot layers” governed the design, number, and arrangement of lots. It is therefore essential that one have a copy of the original lotting plan whenever possible. In those instances when there is no plan available, one must reconstruct the plan from available evidence of surrounding descriptions and physical evidence. Occasionally it is necessary to reconstruct an entire town or a large portion thereof in order to determine the scheme.

Towns often were laid out in divisions in order to take advantage of the quality to the land. There are frequently several divisions in a town, so that any lot number many appear several times (once in each division). There was also common land left in many towns for later granting, for making up lot deficiencies, or for public use. Some of this land was later granted or lotted indiscriminately; in some locations, the term pitch is used for this land.

Fig. 4.3 Example of a township laid out in lots and ranges

d)- Plan reference. Some descriptions merely refer to a plan (commonly termed a plat when referring to a subdivision of land), which by rule of law makes the plan part of the property description. In such cases, one must consult the plan in order to determine the location of the parcel as well as the definition of its lines and corners. This consultation is important, because the plan usually contains an abundance of information that is not included within the deed.
One problem that sometimes arises with this type of description results when the plan is not on record or (even worse) when it can not be found sometimes a lengthy search is necessary to locate such a plan. Because the plan may contain additional information, or information contrary to the deed description (e.g., if the description was written incorrectly form the plan), one cannot overemphasize the plan’s importance.

The plan reference is a very common type of description in modern conveyancing; there have been numerous subdivisions of land under various laws and ordinances, with descriptions then written from those plans. Because developers did not take extreme care in all cases, however, there is often incomplete information in the deed, or conflicting statements between the deed description and that appearing on the plan.

e)- Block and lot. Many early municipal surveys and lotting, and some modern subdivisions (particularly larger ones or those with several phases of development) were designed with lots laid out in block, or sections. One must take care when dealing with a lot number, because that particular number may apply to several lots; a corresponding reference to the applicable block or section is thus critical.

Some include other forms of description under this category: arpent lotting, lot and range, Townsites, and occasionally other variations. The common denominator is that all of these forms of description require a map, plan, or plat to show the lot and its particular characteristics. Problems arise when the map cannot be located; in such situation, one may have to reconstruct a large area-perhaps the entire subdivision-to determine what land is being described.

f)- Coordinates. The survey or accomplishes surveying commutations and design through the use of coordinates or with a coordinate system. Mathematically, all points are designated with a north and an east coordinate value, based on a defined point of origin. The origin may be “local” or arbitrarily selected for the particular project, or it may be a part of a widespread system of coordinates. Some larger cities have their own coordinate system, while each state has its own state plane coordinate system defined by statute. The surveyor may make conversions between systems with the appropriate mathematical routines. These systems are valuable because they facilitate the easy manipulation of numbers and because they assign a unique position to each point. As long as the surveyor know mathematics and the basis of the system, point positions are permanent and the surveyor may reconstruct them at any time.
This system is technically superb, but it doesn’t easily lend itself to use in deed descriptions except as supplemental data to traditional information. Coordinate values would prove very helpful to a surveyor, but would mystify all but the most sophisticated landowner or deed researcher. Further, a description or a plat containing only coordinated points has no check on itself, whereas a description with bearings and distances can be computed for closure. A description with coordinated points will always closes perfectly; because of the high-teach nature of the description, the reader is lulled into a false feeling of confidence. In addition, if the description contains only coordinates, the average landowner does not have the security of having monumented corners or a set of directions to follow in tracing his or her lines and corners.

g)- Strip descriptions. Used primarily for defining rights of way, this type of description generally contains a series of directions and distances defining a centerline, along with the width of the strip or the relevant distances on each side of the centerline. Some minor easements, known as blanket easements, are less definitive in that they describe the right, but not its location or dimensions (e.g., “conveying the right to install a line from the highway to the building(s) located on the premises at a convenient width and location…”). A common example is the telephone or power line utility easement; the easement becomes located where the line ultimately appears, and its scope permits use as necessary for the utility’s proper function.

Fig. 4.4.Example of a strip description
h)-Arpent parcels. Known in some locations as river lots, this type of description is primarily of French origin, and frequently is found along bodies of water in some areas. Arpent parcels are prevalent in Louisiana, and appear throughout the upper Midwest and in the Northeast, particularly in northern New England and eastern Canada.

Because roads were rare in the early development of the country, travelers and settlers relied on water-especially rivers-to travel from place to place. The underlying concept of arpent parcels is to provide for frontage on the body of water and to extend the boundary back from the water line, essentially at right angles, for the distance necessary to provide the required acreage. This resulted in a series of strips, as the diagram below reflects. Descriptions were generally by lot number, and seldom contain metes and bounds. Thus, one must have a copy of the layout or, at the very least, some knowledge of the particular scheme at that location.

Fig.4.5. Arpent parcels laid out along the Connecticut River in Hanover, New Hampshire

i)- Area on one side of a described line. Occasionally a tract of land is described by no more than the area on one side of a described line that divides the parent parcel. The survey or must have full knowledge of the parent tract in order to apply properly the line so described. Usually such a description will define the line in question by metes and bounds, but often the description will contain little additional information about the parent tract. In its simplest form, this type of description may only describe a line that will sever a certain acreage, or a line that will divide the parent tract in equal parts (e.g., “the West half of the Ridge Pasture”)
Because this category includes the so-called”ly” description problems can arise with irregular parcels because more than one interpretation may ensue. For example, consider the following description:
Said pasture being divided as follows beginning at a stake and stones placed near the southern or front wall, ten rods six feet west from the southeastern corner running from the said stake and stones in a northerly direction to a pine tree marked on the south side from thence to a stake and stone place near the wall on the northern end ten rods six feet from the northeasterly corner of said pasture.

One must exercise great care in interpreting this type of description, and one should use this sort of description only when there is no chance for more than one interpretation.

j)- Description by reference to name of occupant or owner. Land owned or occupied by another party is sometimes difficult to identify with accuracy. One usually can find descriptions of ownerships provided they are on record, but sometimes they are not always easy to locate, especially if the title derives from an inheritance. Land occupied by another usually present difficulty, as evidence of occupancy often is not part of the record. In many cases, ownership may be in another person and relating the two (such as through a lease) may be difficult or impossible.

k)- Description by reference to name or number of tract. A reference to a tract by name or tract number, as depicted on a map or plat, may be a sufficient description to define the boundaries of the tract. If the plat is unavailable or deficient, however, problems may arise. In addition, parties may have known a particular tract of land by a local or colloquial name that historically carried some meaning, but has been forgotten over time. One frequently encounters descriptions designating a parcel by some previous owner’s name, usually a long-term owner or a prominent historical family. In such cases, it is sometimes necessary to research back to that ownership to prove the correct parcel of land.
l)- Description by reference to description in other grant or conveyance. One may occasionally encounter a description that merely refers back to a previous conveyance. By rule, any such reference is deemed a part of the description; thus, one must examine any such reference. Occasionally, referring to a previous document may just refer the reader back to yet another previous deed, and so on through several transfers over many years back to the original source of title. Such a description, however, may be perfectly adequate.
Combination. Many descriptions are combinations of the foregoing categories. Problems are inherent in many of these descriptions, because there frequently exist conflicts between description systems and description elements.

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