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Legal Descriptions

Legal descriptions are used to identify a parcel’s location on the face of the earth without duplication and without confusion with any other parcel. A street address may be inadequate to legal identify a parcel since street names and numbers are often similar in various locations.
A legal description of real estate identifies a parcel of land in a manner that rules out confusion with any other parcel. Surveyors are used to identify the boundaries of a parcel and to draw the legal description from the survey.
The legal description is used in all significant documents regarding the property, including sales contracts, mortgages, deeds, title policies, and so on.


What are the three methods which are used to legally describe property?

• Surveyor’s method (also called the metes and bounds method),
• Government survey method (also called the rectangular or grid method), and
• Lot and block method (also called the plat method or recorded plat method).


Assessor's Parcel Number (APN)

Is a number that is assigned to a parcel of real property by a county property assessor to uniquely identify that property within the jurisdiction.

County appraiser offices use many different terms, used synonymously and interchangeably with APN to describe parcel numbers, including:
• ID number
• Folio number
• Assessor’s identification number (AIN)
• Parcel identification number (PIN)
• Parcel control number (PCN)


Property appraisers use tax maps

which are based upon recorded plat maps, to view individual parcels. Each property is shown on the tax map.

Today, most county tax maps can be viewed online at the county property appraiser’s website. Additional information such as the owner’s name, the site address, the assessed value of land and structures, and the parcel number can also be viewed.


Preparation and Use of Surveys

A survey is a description of the actual boundaries of a property.

The surveyor uses known objects called benchmarks to establish the correct starting point for the survey.

Common forms of benchmarks include bronze or aluminum disks set in stone or concrete, or rods driven into the earth.


Surveyor's Method (Metes and Bounds)

The surveyor’s method, also known as the metes and bounds method is the oldest method of land description and provides the most accurate type of legal description. This method can be used to describe regularly or irregularly shaped tracts of real estate using the measurements and references described in this section.



are measurements of distance such as inches, feet, yards, and miles.



refer to compass directions used to define property boundaries.



Monuments are fixed objects used to establish boundaries. The initial reference point for a survey begins at the monument, which is a known point.

Monuments can be metal or concrete markers and are found set in the ground.


Point of Beginning (POB)

The survey begins by giving directions from the monument to the edge of the property, which is called the point of beginning (POB). The survey continues by describing the directions and distances that make up the other perimeter of the property. When the survey returns to the POB, it is called a closing.

In essence, a person starts at a known point, goes to a POB on the property, and walks around the property until returning to the POB. If a string was staked out as the survey was completed and the two ends tired together, the description of the property would be everything inside the string.


Directions and Turning Points

Surveyors use a circular method to identify the direction in which the survey moves around the property’s boundary. The key to understanding the surveyor’s method is to know that the POB and each of the turning points at the corners of the property are observed as if centered in a circle. The surveyor identifies the path around the property by giving directions that indicate survey direction either to the north or south, or toward either east or west.


Shorthand for Compass Bearings

Compass bearings are used to describe the direction of the boundary lines. Surveyors use a type of shorthand to give directions in an abbreviated fashion that tells the reader how to proceed around the property. Directions are given in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

Descriptions always begin with North or South followed by the number of degrees East or West up to a maximum of 90 degrees. N 37 E is translated to mean that a property boundary was encountered and the new boundary line goes in a north direction at 37 degrees towards the east.


Surveyors' Compass Directions

Keep in mind that the directions in the legal description are from the point of view of the surveyor as if he or she is standing in the middle of the compass.


Government Survey Method

also called the rectangular method, divides the surface of the earth into a grid, with numbered squares. Each numbered square can be subdivided repeatedly into smaller squares. This system is based on the principle that you can identify any point on a plane by referencing the intersection of two lines (or axes).


When was the government survey method developed?

in 1785 to make possible the westward expansion of the United States. Vast unsettled areas that had not been surveyed law west of the original colonies. To open this land to settlement required a simplified method of legal description; the surveyor’s method was too cumbersome and time consuming for that purpose.


The government survey method was the principal method used for what?

used to create legal descriptions of property located west of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Florida was also surveyed using this method. Texas, which was part of Mexico at that time, was not surveyed using this method; neither were the original thirteen colonies or states later carved from those colonies.


Use of the Government Survey Method in Florida

In Florida, the government survey method begins in Tallahassee by drawing:
• A north/south line called the Tallahassee Principal Meridian, and
• An east/west line called the Tallahassee Baseline.

The government survey marker for Florida, pictured below, is at the intersection of the Tallahassee Principal Meridian and the Tallahassee Baseline. All legal descriptions in the state of Florida originate from this point.



The state is further subdivided into squares, called townships, by drawing additional north/south lines and additional east/west lines at six-mile intervals.


Meridians or Range Lines

The north/south lines are drawn parallel to the principal meridian and are called meridians, or range lines.


Baselines or Township Lines

The east/west lines are drawn parallel to the baseline and are called baselines, or township lines.



Each vertical area between meridians is called a range.



Each horizontal area between baselines is a row of townships, called a tier. A tier is a row of townships; however, in common usage, a tier is more often referred to as a township.


Each of the squares

created by drawing range lines and township lines represents a township. The location of a township can be found by identifying the tier and range in which the township is located.



A township is six miles square and contains 36 square miles. However, meridian (range lines) lines do not remain six miles apart; they follow the curvature of the earth and would eventually converge at the North and South poles.


Guide Meridians

To correct for this variation, guide meridians are drawn every 24 miles east and west of the Tallahassee Principal Meridian.


Correction Lines

are located every 24 miles north and south of the Tallahassee Baseline.



The intersection of guide meridians and correction lines forms a 24-mile-square area called a check.


In the government survey method, a township is further subdivided into

36 sections. Each section is one square mile and is given a number to identify it, using a numbering system that runs from 1 through 36.


Locating a Section within a Township

First locate the township tier and range. Then locate the section number within township.


Section Subdivided into Quarter Sections

Each section is one square mile, or 640 acres.

When a section is subdivided into quarters each resulting subsection contains 160 acres (1/4 of 640 acres).

Subsections are identified by their position with the section: NW, NE, SW, or SE.