A Legal Description of Property Documents

Real property, as distinguished from personal property, can be loosely defined as land. Real property encompasses the surface and everything attached (that is, buildings), everything below the surface (such as minerals) and the airspace above the surface up to a certain altitude. Maintaining accurate property records and conveyances requires a uniform methodology for physically describing real property across different jurisdictions.

Metes and Bounds

Documents describing, transferring or conveying real property often contain a legal description of the land. This description is often referred to as a "metes and bounds" description, or a "bounded by" description.


A legal description of real property appears in instruments such as sale contracts, deeds and other agreements relating to the property. A legal description in a property document is usually included as a separate schedule, appendix or attachment.


A legal description of real property uses physical features and geographical references to identify and describe the property's dimensions. The legal description will typically begin in one corner of a lot and identify the exact location of that corner. The description will then trace out and identify the length, path and corner formed by each boundary line, eventually returning to the first corner.


Any variations or inaccuracies in the legal descriptions in property documents could affect the validity of the title transfer between parties. The legal description is also helpful in identifying property boundaries when making alterations or improvements, so a proper description is essential in preventing or deciding boundary disputes between neighboring property owners.

Lot and Block System

The lot and block system is one of the simplest methods of legally describing property. Typically, this system begins with a subdivision plat or map. That plat or map is divided into smaller blocks, with individual lots demarcated within the blocks. Real property will often be referred to by its "Section, Block and Lot" numbers. This system is commonly used by municipalities and their building departments and tax assessors.


About the Author

Mike Caruso is an attorney in New York and practices in civil litigation, land use and environmental law. He began writing in 2009 and his articles have appeared in online publications such as eHow. Mike received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Colgate University.