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Understanding How To Find Legal Property Description and Why it Matters to Contractors

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As a contractor, you are responsible for a laundry list of tasks for each project you take on. Finding the legal property description is just one item on that list, but it’s a very important one.

A solid understanding of where and how to get a legal description of property is a must for keeping your project running smoothly.

This guide will lay out:

  • What a legal description of property is
  • Why it is important; and
  • The problems you can run into when looking for one.

Table of Contents

As you will read more about below, legal property descriptions are usually necessary information you need to file the preliminary notices that will help you get paid.

At Flexbase, we will also help you with your preliminary notices by auto-generating them error-free and submitting them on your behalf.

You don’t have to worry about making sure you have the right forms or obsessively proofreading once you’ve filled them out. As you may know, even one typo can result in a void of contract and end up with you not getting paid.

But with Flexbase, you just input the pertinent information about your project and our software will pull all the necessary data together and create the notice for you. We will even send them by…

  • Certified mail
  • Email; and
  • Text

…so your mind can be at ease that you haven’t missed a step in the process.

The Bureau of Land Management defines a legal property description as “a written statement recognized by law as to the definite location of a tract of land by reference to a survey, recorded map, or adjoining property.”

In other words, it is how you locate and identify a piece of land.

It provides evidence of precisely the location and boundaries of a parcel of property.

There are a few different systems used to create these descriptions.

Metes and Bounds Measurements

Metes and bounds is a method that describes the boundaries of a parcel of land with regard to its physical landmarks. It starts from a beginning point and gives descriptions around the entire piece of land until it returns to the same point.

This system may use:

  • Natural landmarks, such as rivers
  • Man-made structures, like roads
  • Stakes; or
  • Other markers.

In some jurisdictions, metes and bounds are considered to be the most accurate descriptions of a piece of land.

Public Land Survey System

Also known as the Rectangular Survey System, the Public Land Survey System was created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 and is based on a system of lines that form rectangles and squares throughout the United States.

This type of survey is more systematic than metes and bounds and uses a grid of…

  • Meridians
  • Baselines
  • Townships; and
  • Ranges

… to describe land.

Lot and Block Method

The newest and simplest of the three, the lot and block method is most often used in densely populated areas such as big cities and planned suburbs. It is also called the Recorded Plat or Recorded Map Survey System.

It refers to parcels of land by their lot number or letter and the block in which the lot is located.

If you are a contractor, you must have this information to be able to file preliminary notices and mechanics liens in most cases.

Skipping this step could hold up important parts of your job and keep you from getting paid.

What Happens if You Can’t Find a Legal Property Description?

Some states require contractors to send preliminary notices about the project to the property owner or the construction lender. If you don’t have the legal property description, you may have problems filing.

You always want to file a mechanics lien as security that you will be paid for your work, but an incorrect or incomplete property description may render liens unenforceable in a court of law.

“So how do I find the legal description of a property?” you may ask.

For the most reliable information, look for the legal description within the most recent property deed on file.

You may be able to find the description in a recent sales contract for the property, but the best way is to look for it at the county clerk’s or recorder of deeds’ office. This is also known as the county assessor’s office.

County Assessor’s Office

Every county is different, so be sure to contact your local assessor’s office to find out what you need to do to access the legal description of property for your project.

Some offices may have these documents available online for easier access, or you might have to make an appointment to physically retrieve the record.

Locating the property deed should be a straightforward process, but sometimes documents are recorded in a way that can make them tricky to find. If you’re having trouble, consider these possibilities.

#1 No Search Results By Municipal Address

Sometimes the address used by the postal service will be different from the description of a property originally used by the county. This is especially true as changes are made to an area over time.

If putting in the municipal address isn’t yielding any results, you may need to do some research about the origins of the area.

#2 No Search Results By Property Owner’s Name

If you are searching for the legal description of property by the owner’s name and are coming up empty, this may mean that person isn’t the actual property owner.

Do your homework to get the correct information and try again.

What is a Request for Information?

If all else fails, you should be able to send a request for information to the general contractor or hiring party. In some states, it’s a requirement for the general contractor to provide the information if someone asks.

Some deeds have descriptions that were created before GPS measurements were available, and others have errors that have been unknowingly passed from one owner to the next.

Here are some of the most common mistakes.

#1 Describing the Incorrect Property

It seems crazy that this could be an issue, especially with a property that has been around for many years, but sometimes the description in the deed may represent the wrong lot.

This can cause serious problems during the permitting process when you want work done on a property.

It can also lead to confusion and error when suppliers are dropping off materials.

Or it might even cause a property dispute.

This is a worst-case scenario regarding legal property descriptions, but it can happen.

#2 Leaving Out the Full Description

A legal description usually consists of one to two short paragraphs.

Since it contains information about…

  • What lots or parcels make up the property
  • Land features
  • Parallels and meridians; and
  • Total acreage

…any part of the description that is missing will interfere with the correct filing of liens.

#3 Subdivided Property

If a parcel of land has been subdivided, the smaller portion of the property is required in the inclusion of the legal property description.

If what you see in the description is the larger entity, that is a mistake and should be corrected immediately.

#4 Adding Physical Characteristics of the Property

Many people make the mistake of describing the physical features of the property when creating a legal description.

It’s easy to see how people can get confused by this, but one has nothing to do with the other.

So if you’re reading the description and see mention of a tree or hill in the middle of the land, this is not completely valid and needs to be reassessed.

We hope this information has helped you learn more about legal property descriptions — what they are, why they’re important, and how you can find one and make sure it is correct.

Another way we are here to help you is by streamlining and automating your payment system, including the creation of perfect preliminary notices that will ensure you get the money you deserve.

Look into Flexbase to find out more about these features and other ways we can get you paid faster, eliminate paperwork, and make your life easier.