What is a legal description, and how is it used?
A legal description is, in effect, a set of written instructions which tell a surveyor how to locate a given piece of property on the ground. Legal descriptions appear in deeds, mortgages, and other documents that affect the property.
Most legal descriptions include the name of the county in which the property is located. Each legal description identifies one and only one piece of property in the county in which it is used. There are several different types:
Lot and block descriptions
- "Lot 6, Block 4, Carl C. Carlson's Addition. These descriptions refer to a recorded map known as a plat.
Sectional land descriptions
- "The Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 33, Township 33, Range 21". These are more common in rural areas, and refer to parts of the one-mile-square pieces of land, known as sections, which were created by the U.S. Government through the Public Land Survey. In Minnesota, the Public Land Survey was begun in the late 1840s and completed in the early 1900s.
Fractional descriptions of a larger parcel
- "The north 50 feet of the east 100 feet of Lot 6, Block 4, Carl C. Carlson's Addition.
Metes and bounds descriptions
- These begin at a designated point, and then give the directions and distances to be measured around the boundaries of the land. Metes and bounds descriptions can run to several pages. Here is a brief example: "Beginning at the northeast corner of Section 33, Township 33, Range 21; thence, along the east line thereof, South 0 degrees 41 minutes 03 seconds East a distance of 200 feet; thence South 89 degrees 25 minutes 31 Seconds West, parallel to the north line of said Section, a distance of 200 feet; thence North 0 degrees 41 minutes 03 seconds West, parallel to the east line of said Section, a distance of 200 feet to the north line thereof; thence, along said north line, North 89 degrees 25 minutes 31 seconds East a distance of 200 feet to the point of beginning."
Government lot. A subpart of a section which is not described as an aliquot part of the section, but which is designated by number, for example, Lot 3. A lot may be regular or irregular in shape, and its acreage may vary from that of regular aliquot parts. These lots frequently border water areas excluded from the Public Land Survey System.
A legal description may include all of a piece of property which is being sold or mortgaged. However, it may also include only part of an existing piece of property for the purpose of creating an easement, or a lease. Some legal descriptions are prepared by attorneys or title companies. All surveyors are experienced in interpreting and preparing legal descriptions, and can also measure or calculate any dimensions that may be needed for the area of land that is to be described.