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Land Description

Land Description Defined

Land Description Defined

A land description is an accurate representation of a land parcel or piece of property. This property may be owned publicly or privately, and can be represented in various forms. The process of obtaining an accurate land description is known as surveying. A survey is conducted by a licensed surveyor on behalf of either the government of the locality, or the private owner of the property. 
This survey then takes the form of either a written prose description, or a visual representation known as a plat. Throughout history, surveying has shifted through varying methodologies depending upon the region. Early American surveys derived from the traditional English measurements of Metes and Bounds, but later shifted toward the Public Land Survey System used by the United States Government today.
Government Description 

Government Descriptions of land are official representations of properties and localities that follow a specific set of zoning laws or local ordinances. This differs from Land Descriptions in general as it does not concern surveys conducted by third parties on private property. The Public Land Survey System used by the Land Office of the United States employs a method of Land Description called the Government Rectangular Survey Description. 
This system uses a latitude line designated by the property’s Principal Meridian, cross-referenced to a longitude line designated by the property’s Base Line to determine the point of origin. The property is then measured in square segments called Townships, beginning and ending with the point of origin; altogether forming a “rectangular” path for the surveyor.

Plotted Description 

A Plotted Description is a visual representation of a Land Description obtained by a surveyor. In the United States, this plotted description is more commonly referred to as a “plat”. The Plat is a drawn-to-scale map of the property, which indicates its various geographic features. Plats are created by licensed surveyors and inspected by zoning boards to insure compliance with local ordinances. 
The plat may not indicate any violations of said property law.  Plotted Descriptions of land parcels are often reviewed and amended as changes to the property’s topography take place. These changes may be natural (flooding, earthquake), or involve construction and demolition.  Plats are also subject to modification when owners parcel off subdivisions of the land, or consolidate smaller properties into larger plots of land.
Metes and Bounds

What are Metes and Bounds?

What are Metes and Bounds?

Metes and Bounds is derived from the original system of land description employed by the English government in the pre-colonial era. The system traveled to the continental United States by way of the original colonies, and was the basis of the earliest land survey conducted stateside. 
 
The foundation of the system lies in the geography and topography of the locality being surveyed. Much like the PLSS used in the United States today, the surveying process has a point of origin where the land description begins and ends. The surveyor begins at the point of origin and conducts straight runs to the boundaries of the property, forming a running description of the property based on the natural boundaries and monuments.  
Common natural boundaries include rivers, cliffs, rock formations, etc. In addition to these boundaries, surveyors would take note of natural “monuments” in the area, which would help denote the boundary line between the surveyed property and the adjacent land. In the event that no such natural monuments were observed, man-made structures such as posts and flags were used to demarcate boundary lines. Such is the origin of the term “metes and bounds”. Metes refers to the measure and direction of the straight runs taken from the point of origin. Likewise Bounds refers to the natural topography of the region which borders and sections the property. Its unlikely that would one own land on both sides of a river or at the top and bottom of a steep cliff.
 
The system of Metes and Bounds was widely used in England and in the colonies for many centuries, but was eventually relinquished by the United States government in favor of the Rectangular survey, which does not face the same restrictions of natural obstacles. Besides those restrictions, other weaknesses of the Metes and Bounds survey system were consistency and maintenance. In early times, unpaved roads and trails (both of which were used as man made monuments for demarcation) often changed location and direction without public registry. 
This was especially true on large parcels of private land. A change in the description of a boundary threw off the entire survey description. This was because Metes and Bounds surveys were summarized in prose, taking an “as-you-go” approach to the land description. One out-of-place boundary could create drastic irregularities when it came time to create a plat or visual representation of the land.
 
Petty disputes between neighbors also arose from the placement of man-made monuments on boundary lines. Many neighbors in Elizabeth I’s court accused one another of moving the markers to alter the size of the property, or to claim more favorable topography. As the surveys were written with directions centered around the monuments, this made it very difficult to settle these disputes in court or provide a verdict. 
The weaknesses of this system led the United States government to pass the Land Ordinance of 1785, which began conducting new surveys and revising older ones under the guidelines of the rectangular system of land descriptions.

The Facts About Plotted Descriptions of Land

The Facts About Plotted Descriptions of Land

The United States General Land Office is responsible for conducting surveys of all 50 states and the various territories and acquisitions. Once such a survey is conducted according to the guidelines set forth in the PLSS, a Plotted Description of the land is produced by the surveyor. This land description comes in the visual form of a drawn-to-scale map called a “Plat”. 
This plat shows the divisions of the land according to the surveyor’s work, and often contains topographical information on the region collected at the ground level. A plat can represent forms of natural vegetation, elevation, and soil composition. The plat is further divided into cities, streets, blocks and alleys. The purpose of this practice is twofold: that the plat accurately represent the territory of the described locality, and that the blocks may be sectioned off and sold as private real estate.
Plotted description of land can have many uses for the state and local governments in the area. Plats can help city planners designate traffic flow, and strategically place interchanges and roads in accordance to land description.  Additional information provided by topographical plats can help avoid major road construction in areas where highway maintenance would be too difficult or costly in conditions of heavy traffic or inclement weather. 
In addition, to adhere to zoning and enclosure laws, a plat must ensure that all owners of private property may access their property from public roadways.  If this condition is not met, a property owner would have no choice but to trespass to access his or her private land, thus violating their neighbors property rights (subjecting themselves to litigation or personal danger).
Some city ordinances and zoning laws dictate limits on lot sizes. In these cases, an accurate land description helps designate acceptably sized lots in accordance with regulations. This prevents an oversized piece of property from being illegally bought or sold within local limits. In addition to size limits on land transactions, there are zoning laws that regulate land use and construction. 
For example, in many localities, it is illegal to build on a parcel of land without previous inspection from a licensed property inspector. The Department of Public works may set restrictions on land use with regard to drainage and utility access. If any construction interferes with the local regulations, said construction is a zoning violation.
New plotted descriptions of land parcels are also penned when owners modify or change the land structure itself. When a landowner consolidates a nearby group of land parcels into a larger unit, a new plat must be constructed to adhere to zoning laws. 
Conversely, when a portion of land is parceled off and sold to a third party, a new plat must be constructed to provide the government with an up to date land description of the property. Finally, a new plat must be constructed if surveyors or landowners come across a recorded error or irregularity in the land description.