If an individual is describing real estate property, they will usually use many adjectives: spacious or small, accessible or remote, flat or sloping. But when it's the "legal" description, don't expect any word picture that gives an idea of the terrain. Rather a legal description, in the state of Texas and other jurisdictions, will use terms like lot and block, or metes and bounds.
Under Texas law, deed or conveyance documents that contain inadequate property descriptions are void, since location is an essential element of a deed. However little it offers in terms of evocative description, the legal description offers a precise description of the geographic location of the property.
What Is a Legal Description?
The legal description of a piece of property is important since it identifies exactly where the land is in relation to other property nearby. While a street address does the same, a legal description is more precise and specifies the boundaries of the tract of land. The legal description is also the only type of description that will assist in a boundary dispute between property owners.
For these reasons, it is the legal description that is usually included in a property deed in Texas. The property described on a conveyance deed is exactly the tract that will pass by the deed, not more, not less.
Who Writes the Legal Description?
A legal description on a deed of property in Texas is not valid unless it is written from the research and findings prepared by a Texas Registered Land Surveyor. Surveyors have access to equipment and information that allows them to determine with precision a property's exact boundaries.
The federal government created the United States Survey System in the early history of the nation, a system that uses latitude and longitude to divide land into townships and the townships into sections. A property surveyor makes use of points on the boundaries of the sections as starting points for surveys, particularly the "point of beginning."
Language of Texas Legal Descriptions
The language of Texas legal descriptions is not made up of conversational English. Rather, a legal description talks in terms of "metes and bounds" or "blocks and lots." The former identifies the actual boundary lines of a property, and the latter is added to a legal description in a township. If there is a block and lot description, Texas requires that it is included in the legal description. Both metes and bounds and block and lot descriptions are legal descriptions in Texas.
To find the metes and bounds of a property – the actual boundary lines – the surveyor starts at the beginning. That is, they use a specific "point of beginning" in the section where the property is located. Then they draw out the boundaries to connect at that point of beginning. The legal description for a property first describes the point of beginning that the surveyor used, then indicates the directions and distances from that point that bound the parcel of land.
Sometimes land in a township has already been subdivided, with a subdivision plat map recorded in the land records office. In that case, the legal description can also include block and lot numbers. Each block contains many lots, with each one being a parcel of real property with a separate deed. This part of a legal description will include the county name in Texas, the block number, the lot number and where the plat was recorded.
Examples of Legal Descriptions in Official Public Records
A metes and bounds legal description of a property sets out specific measurements and bounds that describe the perimeter of the property. Then it includes a list of step-by-step directions that describe the boundaries, ending at the point of beginning. For example those directions might include language like:
"THENCE North 02E15N25O and East 519 ft. to a set of 1 inch iron rods marking the northeast corner."
A lot and block legal property description sets out the lot number and block number. That is followed by a reference to a subdivision tract recorded in the county property records, including the volume and page number of the County Deed record where the lot and block are described. It might look like this:
Lots 9 and 10 in Block 11, of XYZ Addition, a subdivision in Harris County, Texas, according to the map or plat thereof recorded in Volume 1, Page 550, of the Deed Records of Harris County, Texas.
Locating Real Property Records
The first place to look for the legal description of a Texas parcel is on the property deed. It is a legal requirement in Texas that the deed contain the description. If someone wants to know the legal description of property they own, they should review the deed. The legal description will either be included in the document or attached as a separate exhibit.
Another place to look for the legal description of property is on related mortgage or real estate transaction documents. The legal description will also be written out in Texas property tax documents located at the real property appraisal or tax assessor’s site. These sites can be searched with a street address or a parcel tax number for the property. Frequently the search will also yield recording information for the deed to the property. That deed will contain the legal description of the property.
Finally, it is possible to search county land records to find a copy of the property deed and legal description. Some counties in Texas offer interactive online mapping programs to locate a parcel of land and its legal description. Use the official county government site to obtain the most accurate information from the county records. Contact the county clerk or recorder's office for the area in which the property is located for additional information. It is also possible to visit the office of land records at the courthouse to complete the search.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.