Metes and Bounds

The system of metes and bounds is one used in real estate to describe land or real property based on the physical features of its geography, as well as directions and distances. These features define the boundaries of a select parcel of land, and they may also include references to adjoining parcels of land and their owners. Once the description is complete, the boundaries of the property may be physically marked on the ground with permanent markers, that is if no suitable natural markers exist. To explore this concept, consider the following metes and bounds definition.

Definition of Metes and Bounds

Noun

  1. A system used in real estate to define the physical features and boundaries of a piece of property.

Origin

1275-1325       late Middle English

What are Metes and Bounds

Metes and bounds are the limits or boundaries of a piece of property as identified by its natural landmarks. Examples of metes and bounds landmarks include rivers, roads, stakes, or other such natural or manmade markers. Metes and bounds descriptions are typically used whenever land survey areas are irregularly sized and/or shaped, so that the boundaries of the property can be more clearly defined.

A metes and bounds description of a piece of land is referred to as its “legal description,” as opposed to being distinguishable by a mere street address or lot number. While the system is still used today, technology has greatly improved upon its associated tools and measurements.

Consider the following example of metes and bounds description, which describes a roughly triangular-shaped piece of property using distance, direction, and compass points, as well as manmade markers that were used to mark out the property for future reference:

“Beginning at a point from which the north quarter corner of Section 4, T. 1 N (township 1 north), R. 70 W (range 70 west) of the 6th PM (the sixth principal meridian, a north–south reference line) in ABC County, Colorado, bears N 45° W 1,320 feet, at which point of beginning an iron stake has been placed; thence south 600 feet to a point also marked by an iron stake; thence N 45° W 700 feet to a large oak tree; thence northeasterly to the point of beginning.”

Metes

“Metes” are a piece of property’s boundary lines, as determined by measuring its “straight runs.” A straight run is the distance between two points. Metes can also be found by determining a plot of land’s direction. A property’s direction may be as simple as a compass point, or the direction that each point of the property faces. This means that metes can be described as north, south, east, or west.

Bounds

“Bounds” is a term that is used to describe a property’s boundary lines in a more general sense. For instance, a manmade wall, public roadway, or even an existing building can serve as a plot of land’s “bounds.” Bounds are often used to define bigger pieces of property, such as farms, or political subdivisions, including a town’s boundaries. This is because a more detailed definition would otherwise be either too expensive to carry out, or simply unnecessary.

History of Metes and Bounds Use

The history of metes and bounds use came into play back during the days of the original colonies making up the United States. The history of metes and bounds use continues today in those states that were originally part of the Thirteen Colonies – or before 1785 – in areas where land was being allocated, such as Maine, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Vermont. To this day, Texas still primarily uses the metes and bounds system due to the fact that it was an independent republic prior to achieving statehood.

The history of metes and bounds use affects election constituency boundaries today as well, as these are still described using metes and bounds, even in jurisdictions where they are not used in property sales. These jurisdictions typically rely on streets and their intersections to define the boundaries of each electoral district.

Metes and Bounds Survey

The following is an actual example of a metes and bounds survey that was recorded in Superior Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan. The assessor’s parcel number is the property’s tax identification number.

PROPERTY DESCRIPTION
ASSESSOR’S PARCEL NO:  14-02-620-012

9320 DUCK HARBOR ROAD
PLYMOUTH, MICHIGAN  48170

COM AT E 1/4 POST OF SEC, TH S 1 DEG 05′ E 112.42 FT IN E LINE OF SEC, TH S 66 DEG 08′ W 702.70 FT IN CENT OF HWY FOR PL OF BEG, TH S 14 DEG 06′ E 850.03 FT, TH S 66 DEG 09′ W 244.27 FT, TH N 22 DEG 40′ W 542.46 FT, TH N 66 DEG 09′ E 843.26 FT IN CENT OF HWY TO THE PL OF BEG, SEC 2, T2S-R7E, 3.62 AC.

In addition to the easily identifiable abbreviations that are used in the metes and bounds survey, technology has also made it possible to include more precise images. For instance, metes and bounds surveys are now accompanied by images from MapQuest and GlobeXplorer, both of which can show a more detailed representation of the precise boundaries being discussed.

Metes and Bounds Example Involving a Transfer of Land

An example of metes and bounds problems involved a transfer of land, which had never been properly measured. In 1942, when a piece of land was sold to Byrd Patton, the legal description of that land did not contain metes and bounds. On April 6, 1951, Byrd transferred the land to Ralph Patton. Ralph passed away in 1952, whereupon the land was transferred to Ruth Martin. The legal description at that time had not been updated to include metes and bounds. Instead, the land was consistently described as having a certain number of acres “more or less.”

In 1955, Ruth hired a land surveyor, N.S. Westbrook, to survey the land forming the property line between lot 76 and lot 77. Westbrook marked out with iron stakes the boundary lines that he had measured. In 1982, the land was surveyed again, however the boundary lines were significantly different than those that had been drawn during the 1955 survey. Another survey was done in 1994, whereupon it was learned that all three surveys drew different boundary lines for the property. It was therefore impossible to tell which boundary lines were correct.

Martin then decided to bring a lawsuit to quiet title to this particular parcel of land. The jury, upon being given all three property lines on which to decide, ultimately chose the boundary line that was drawn in the 1982 survey.

At trial, Warren L. Storey, Jr., the surveyor who had conducted the 1982 survey, testified that, since the deeds to the property contained no metes and bounds, the property should be measured by calculating its acreage. This was despite the fact that the property contained both manmade and natural physical boundaries. Performing such calculations would, according to Storey, reveal the true dividing line between lots 76 and 77. Ultimately, the jury chose the 1982 survey line.

Martin appealed to the Court of Appeals of Georgia, and in April of 1997, the Court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for the purpose of conducting a new trial. Said the Court:

“Storey admitted that the Westbrook survey of 1955 and the Mitchell survey of 1994 both located and placed monuments where the land lot line between Land Lots 76 and 77 was located on the ground. Storey testified that the land lot line was not the boundary, notwithstanding that the deeds used the land lot line as the boundary between Land Lots 76 and 77. In his opinion, the acreage and the 1931 survey forced the boundary line, and the appellee’s deed should have shown that the land lay in both Land Lots 76 and 77, because it was necessary to cross the land lot line to give appellee the exact acreage called for in the deed and to establish the dividing line. The appellee’s deed, by assent, did not convey to her a specific acreage but, by its express language, conveyed only a ‘tract or parcel’ of land with ‘more or less’ acreage.

Since such opinion is contrary to the law as to the determination of boundary lines by disregarding that each deed located the tract as existing exclusively in one land lot and recognizing the definite boundary as the land lot line, and since Storey admits that the land lot line was correctly determined by the Westbrook survey of 1955 and the Mitchell survey of 1994, then there was no probative evidence to support the jury verdict and judgment decreeing the boundary line as set forth in the verdict. The trial court erred as a matter of law in entering the judgment.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Jurisdiction – The geographical region of authority to enforce justice; the legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments.
  • Land Survey – The science of determining the terrestrial positions of points, as well as the distances and angles between them.
  • Republic – A state in which the power is held by the people and their elected representatives.

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