While the public generally can identify a parcel of real estate by its street address, any documentation regarding ownership or interests in the property usually must contain the legal description. The legal description is a formal and detailed description of the property's location, and it can be found in the county land records.
What Is a Legal Description of Property?
The legal description of property refers to the comprehensive description of a parcel of real estate as set forth on the property deed. The legal description shows exactly where the property is and what its boundaries are. While the address of a property is used to send mail or for getting directions, the legal description actually shows what land the owner owns.
Read More: How To Get an Address From a Legal Description
The Purpose of a Legal Description
The legal description is important because it specifies exactly what the boundaries are for a parcel of real estate. If a dispute between land owners arises about where their properties begin and end, a review of the legal description will resolve the dispute. Legal descriptions must be present on the property's deed, and errors in the legal description could cause issues down the road for the owner.
How Legal Descriptions Are Written
The legal description is written based on the findings a professional surveyor. A surveyor uses special equipment to determine exactly where the property's boundaries are. Property in the United States is surveyed in accordance with the U.S. Survey System created by the federal government in the 18th century.
The U.S. Survey System uses the latitude and longitude lines to divide the land into townships and the townships into sections. Surveyors use specific points on the boundaries of the sections to start their surveys, starting with the point of beginning.
Metes and Bounds Descriptions
The metes and bounds of a property are the actual boundary lines. The surveyor uses a specific point of beginning in the section where the property sits and maps out where the property begins and ends, reconnecting at the point of beginning. A legal description containing metes and bounds will describe the point of beginning and indicate the directions and distances from that point that outline the parcel.
Block and Lot Descriptions
If property within a township or section has been subdivided and a subdivision map, or plat, has been recorded, then the legal description may also include block and lot numbers. The blocks contain multiple lots, and each lot is one parcel of real property with its own deed. The block and lot description will provide the block number, the lot number and the county, as well as the name of the subdivision or the recording location of the plat.
For example, a property in the ABC Subdivision of XYZ County might have a block and lot description similar to "Lot 10, Block 20, ABC Subdivision, as recorded in the XYZ County Book of Plats at Book 45, page 350."
Finding the Legal Description
The legal description should always be present on the deed to the property. The property owner can review the deed and find the legal description, either incorporated into the document or attached as a separate exhibit. The legal description will also be on any mortgage documents related to the property.
If the documents aren't available, interested parties can contact the county clerk or recorder's office and obtain the information. Many counties will provide the information for free, while others may charge a search fee.
The county land records office will have information about a property's legal description. The information may be available online, or interested parties can go to the county office to request the information. The legal description is also located on the deed to the property.
Rebecca K. McDowell is a creditors' rights attorney with a special focus on bankruptcy and insolvency. She has a B.A. in English from Albion College and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She has written legal articles for Nolo and the Bankruptcy Site.