Legal-Ease: Magically appearing and disappearing acreage


By Lee R. Schroeder - Guest Columnist



The real estate in our region was initially platted into one-mile squares that were to each contain approximately 640 acres, with each square being called a “section”. The section surveying and platting process began in the early 1800s through the U.S. Department of Interior, which granted parts of sections to settlers, primarily in exchange for military service or money.

Initially, the default structure was for 36 sections (six north-to-south and six east-to-west) to comprise a township. The section numbers were to start in the northeast corner or northwest corner of each township and go east/west in an “s” fashion, which is commonly known as “as the cow plows” or “boustorophedonically”. Using the boustrophedonic numbering system was intended to allow surveyors to be more accurate by surveying geographically adjacent sections in sequence.

As could be expected in the 1800s, the equipment used to survey property was much less precise than is the case today. For example, the law now requires that every distance be measured in surveyed feet identified to two decimal places.

Of course, the lack of precision in measuring distances in the 1800s paired with imprecise measurements of directions (in surveys, directions are generally called “bearings”).

As time has progressed, various parts of sections were surveyed with newer and newer equipment that provided more precise measurements of distances and bearings. The results of those newer measurements made it clear that some sections were wider on their north ends than their south ends and vice versa. Some sections were found to be longer on their west sides than the east sides and vice versa. Thus, some sections contain possibly 10 or 12 acres more than the prescribed 640, and other sections contain possibly 10 or 12 acres fewer than the prescribed 640.

Especially in the last few decades, county engineers have been diligent in encouraging, and in many instances requiring, new surveys of tracts of real estate that are transferred. Although increasing transaction costs for buyers and sellers of property, requiring new surveys has significantly improved the knowledge of exact property lines’ locations.

The process of each part section getting surveyed as each part is sold can lead to some confusion before the entire section is resurveyed.

For instance, the default expectation is that a certain section contains 640 acres. All but one corner of that section could be newly surveyed to show that 632 acres are surveyed. Until the remainder of the section is surveyed, the county government (and neighboring landowners) reasonably expect there to be eight acres left in that section.

However, a survey of that remaining, unsurveyed part of the section may show that the remaining, unsurveyed part of the section actually consists of five acres. This conclusion can enrage neighboring property owners who may conclude that “someone is stealing three acres”. However, this particular section as initially surveyed likely only contained 637 acres to begin with.

Therefore, acreage does not magically appear or disappear. Instead, our technology gives us details that clear up past imprecision and ambiguities.

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By Lee R. Schroeder

Guest Columnist

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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