Gannet’s Observatory

Great article about the U of Oregon observatory in Eugene and especially the work of Samuel Gannett. While sadly the observatory is gone the astronomic work observing both latitude and longitude that Gannett and a number of other USC&GS and USGS observers performed to support the early foundation of the horizontal geodetic datums of the U.S. are well described and preserved in U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) Special Publication 110 “Astronomic Determinations.” —

Dave Doyle, via the Internet

Changing Legal Descriptions

With firm respect to Richard Elgin, I disagree with his proposal that after completing retracement surveys we should routinely prepare a new metes and bounds legal description to replace the original (“To Describe or Not …,” TAS March/April). The article identifies reasons that might give rise to the need for a new legal, such as improved measurements, updated monuments, and resolution of any ambiguity. There are existing ways to deal with these concerns, and the drawbacks of repeatedly introducing replacement legals into the chain of title (the article lists some from the title industry’s POV) outweigh any perceived benefit. Among those drawbacks are loss of continuity, and the potential for confusion and conflict (particularly if a new legal has its own problems). Importantly, an original legal description is evidence of the drafter’s intent, which the new legal would be effectively severed from.

Instead of preparing completely new legal descriptions, consider these remedies that are available in the following situations:

  1. Corrective Deed. In the case of an error, the surveyor should prepare and record a corrective deed that explains the error and presents the corrected description. This is only for plain errors (e.g. north instead of south, or 400’ instead of 40’) and the revision should be surgical—not to update or attempt to improve.
  2. Survey Map. I support Dr. Elgin’s guidance to record the survey plat or certificate (“Record of Survey” in CA), explaining how the surveyor established the record boundaries. This is the most effective solution to the concerns Dr. Elgin identifies and it should be the most commonplace. If the legal description is like a contract, then the survey map is its interpretation. Recording the map increases the likelihood that future owners, surveyors, and courts will have the benefit of your interpretation.
  3. Subdivision. If the original legal is so ambiguous, convoluted, or otherwise problematic as to be unacceptable, I would not replace it with a new one. Since you’ve already prepared a map of your survey, why not go an extra step? Change the heading and file it as a one-lot subdivision map, so the legal will become: “Parcel A of Parcel Map 1234.” I would advise this only in rare, truly objectionable situations, because it will incur application fees and may require planning commission approval. Not only are subdivision legal descriptions superior to metes and bounds (in clarity and conciseness), they avoid the need to include in the deed a separate reference to your survey plat, because your survey is contained in the subdivision map.

Lloyd Pilchen, Los Angeles

Author Response:

Thanks to Lloyd Pilchen for his response to my article about preparing boundary descriptions. Mr. Pilchen’s letter illustrates there can be regional surveying/title practices and policies. Standard practice in one area may not be used/applicable elsewhere. But, as I said in the article, we surveyor’s do not drive title industry practices. The best we can do (should do) is provide the very best professional service/deliverables/product we can to our client. In my opinion that is to prepare a boundary description of the tract surveyed. What other title industry professionals do “downstream” from our survey, we cannot control.

Dr. Richard L. Elgin, PS, PE, Rolla, MO