Property Boundary Lines: Legal Definition & Determination

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

One of the most important things a property owner needs to know is the boundary of her property. In this lesson, you'll learn about boundaries, how they relate to a property's legal description and how boundary disputes may be resolved.

Boundary Defined

One of the simplest but most important concepts in real property law is the concept of boundary. A boundary is either a natural object, like a river or lake, or an imaginary line that defines the perimeter of a parcel of land. Let's look at a quick example.

If you look at a political map of the United States, you will see boundary lines delineating each of the states. You'll note that some of the state boundaries are defined by bodies of water, like how Wisconsin is bordered by Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Other states are defined simply by lines drawn on a map.

Anything inside the boundary is part of the parcel of land and anything outside of it is not. Generally, when you own a parcel of land you own everything that's on the surface and under the land within the boundary -- unless those rights have been legally transferred to someone else, such as subsurface mineral rights.

Boundary & Legal Description

A parcel's boundary is important for a property's legal description. A legal description is a detailed and specific geographic description of a parcel of land that is used to identify it for legal transactions, such as buying and selling property. The legal description is important because it tells you what exactly the law will recognize that you own. The legal description is always included in any deed transferring property so the person receiving the property knows what he's getting.

Legal Description & Marketable Title

If a deed contains an ambiguous legal description, title to the property may be unmarketable. A marketable title is title that is reasonably free from defects and claims from other parties such that a reasonably prudent buyer is willing to accept it. For example, a legal description may show a gap in the boundary of the property so there is no certainty of the contours of the perimeter. In other words, the legal description describes a boundary that does not close in on itself, like a square that is missing a leg. A reasonably prudent buyer is not going to pay for a piece of property and take title to it if the legal description is in doubt because the person doesn't know for sure what he is purchasing.

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