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Old Legal Descriptions - They Can Hurt

Excerpted from an article originally published for Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) in the Real Property Law Reporter, Vol. 45, No. 3 (May, 2022) See original article for additional content and references.


Old Surveys and Old Descriptions: What you don’t know can hurt you

Land records in California often contain ticking time bombs that periodically explode on the unsuspecting landowner. As explained herein, the seemingly innocuous, often unintelligible legal description found in every deed and every land conveyance can cause untold, unnecessary suffering.


CASE STUDY: A Parcel Created and Described in the 1930s

Saul* and his partner owned what might be described as an ordinary, single-family home on a rectangular lot in an older residential area between the City of San Jose and the Town of Los Altos Hills in the San Francisco Bay Area. Saul had a problem with a messy tree that shed bushels of fruit, flowers and leaves on his garage outbuilding. The tree was located on or near the property line he shared with his rear adjoining neighbor. This neighbor, Jim, had a much larger lot than Saul, measuring about an acre in area. Jim’s lot was shaped like a long rectangle that abutted Saul’s lot and together, the lots roughly outlined the shape of an “L.” Neither Jim nor Saul was certain where the property line was located, but the location of the existing fence lines varied.

Saul’s garage foundation had a doorway and ramp that extended about 18 inches beyond the garage proper and was more or less in line with the fences to the east, all of which bounded Jim’s property. If the extent of concrete was held as the property line, the tree would mostly lie on Saul’s side of the property line. However, the fence along Saul’s property (which he had replaced several years earlier), might suggest a different location for the property line which would favor Jim. In such location, the tree would lie entirely on Jim’s property. This uncertainty over 18 inches led to five years of conflict, uncertainty and distress for both parties. The dispute would empty all the savings that Saul had accumulated towards his retirement – over $70,000 and he would ultimately take out a second mortgage against his home. The cost to Jim was likely the same, or more. Saul’s partner would die before any resolution was reached, with his passing attributed in large part to the stress of the litigation according to Saul. The parties were so embittered by the process that both sold and moved away as soon as litigation concluded.


The Record of Survey and Legal Description

A record of survey filed during the dispute failed to disclose crucial relevant information. To add a future dimension to this tragedy, the neighboring properties’ legal descriptions are equally tainted by a hidden defect, the existence of which they likely remain blissfully unaware. What is unique about this story (but common to so many more), is that a defect related to the properties’ descriptions was at the root. Had the attorneys known to look for it or had the surveyors been ethical enough or diligent enough to disclose it, the entire situation could have resolved differently.


Reasons old measurements may not meet modern expectations

First, prior to 1891, there were few or no laws regulating the division or conveyancing of land in California. As such, divisions of land may or may not have been surveyed and if surveyed, may or may not have been permanently marked. Additionally, measurement technology was primitive compared to today, and evolving. As such, unless a surveyor reported his methodology and equipment, it is nearly impossible to know how precise an old survey (and any resultant description therefrom) can be expected to be. Finally, whatever standard of precision was acceptable then, would likely not meet modern expectations now. This is primarily because lands back then were of much larger parcels and were less intensively used. To illustrate the potential significance in these differences in land use, a 10-acre almond orchard differs from a 7,000 square foot residential lot which differs in turn from a 751 square foot high rise condominium. As our use of land has intensified and our measurement technology has improved, so our expectations have correspondingly changed.


Digging into older conveyances illuminates the source of confusion

In the saga of Saul and Jim, it turns out that their parcels had been originally described and conveyed around 1930. The title insurance company insuring each parcel had provided the chain of title back to this point in time, but no earlier. Apparently, the particular title company in question did not have access to earlier records. But with a little more research at the recorders office, it was discovered that in 1885, Saul and Jim’s parcels had been split from an earlier parent parcel, in fact a 10-acre almond orchard that was bounded by public streets on three sides. With this knowledge, it was possible to re-create the parent parcel and upon measuring that parent parcel, discover that it was significantly longer than a 10-acre parcel should be. In fact, there were three additional feet that were never accounted for in the subsequent records.

Unfortunately, this information only came to light after several years and much expense. By that time, it was too late to save the relationship the neighbors had previously enjoyed and too late to repair the reputations of several surveyors. Had the parties known at the start that there existed a latent ambiguity affecting their property line, a constructive resolution would undoubtedly have been found.


How budget land surveyors can greatly increase costs

To understand why the tragedy unfolded as it did, let’s next turn to the land surveyors involved. Jim owned a construction company and had prior connections with a land surveyor. So, he initially called his friend who was nearing retirement and asked him to “come stake a property line.” Let’s designate this friend, “Surveyor A.” Surveyor A completed a nominal survey and set two property markers on Jim’s line. No written evidence of this surveyor’s work is known to exist; meaning, no contract, no description of what he surveyed, and no map depicting the survey. However, Surveyor A did speak to the neighbor Saul and explain what he was doing. Also, Saul witnessed him setting the two corners and later pointed out their locations to other surveyors. Needless to say, there are multiple deficiencies with the work of Surveyor A, but it turns out his survey marks were, in retrospect, most revealing. Saul was satisfied with the location of this first survey, but as the tree dispute intensified, Jim wasn’t. He hired a second land surveyor, this time a reputable engineering firm that conformed to the letter (if not the spirit) of the law. Surveyor B used a written contract, surveyed the line as described in Jim’s deed and prepared a map of the survey showing a new position of the subject property line and showing Surveyor A’s property markers about 18” away from the newly positioned line.

Surveyor B did not complete any deed research and did not mark the new property line. The survey map was recorded as required by law and included some coded language that served to protect Surveyor B, but failed to clearly communicate that certain assumptions had been made by Surveyor B in the absence of title research, which if present, could result in alternate locations for the property line. With this evidence, Jim’s attorney served Saul with a lawsuit and they were off to the races. Saul’s attorney in turn advised Saul to hire his own surveyor, Surveyor C.

Surveyor C reviewed the legal descriptions of each party and noticed they referenced certain ancient conveyances which until then were unknown to both parties. After Surveyor C obtained a copy of the chain of title back to a common grantor (about circa 1885), he informed Saul that three feet of excess land appeared to have been historically overlooked, half of which (18”), appeared to lie within that half of the relevant parent tract existing after a city street had bisected the parent 10-acre parcel. This information shed new light on a possible source of confusion unrelated to either party to the dispute. Unfortunately, the adversarial nature of the dispute overcame professionalism and Surveyor C was disciplined by the Board of Licensure for failing to timely file a record of his survey although his work had been shared with the adverse party and was, by nature of his findings, not able to conclude a dispositive resolution to the 18” of extra undescribed land.

Surveyor C, forced to defend his license and thereby incur additional unexpected costs, withdrew from the matter. Saul and Jim now had the relevant facts necessary to understand the source of the dispute, but were in no mood to compromise. By this point, several acrimonious years had passed. Surveyor A had been disciplined and resigned his license (he was ready to retire anyway). Surveyor B had filed a record of survey which was legitimate, but ignored the historical aspect and now just serves to clutter the record with unhelpful information. Surveyor C had been disciplined (probably unfairly) although his research and exhibits had been instrumental to the parties’ understanding of the source of the problem. Surveyor C had also been forced to file another record of survey which essentially stated that the surveyor could not precisely locate the relevant property line due to the previously unrecognized excess land.


LESSONS LEARNED AND BEST PRACTICES: Sniffing out the trouble

Saul’s story is not unique. Many homes in California are described by reference to written documents pre-dating WWII. The next section explains how older urban lots are similarly problematic, but for now let’s continue uncovering the clues that reveal these types of hidden problems.


Understanding the initial source of most land descriptions

At the heart of every land conveyance is a legal description of the real property. To be valid, a description of land must be capable of being located by a competent land surveyor.[ii] Modernly, land surveyors create most legal descriptions, but in times past, owners, attorneys or title officers frequently drafted descriptions of land. Regardless of the author, older descriptions were only as good as the surveys and land records of their times. Surveys prior to 1900 were generally derived from initial government surveys of the public lands or surveys of rancho lands; confirmations of private claims that existed prior to statehood in 1850. Other forms of surveys were occasionally employed, but the public land and rancho surveys form the backbone of the majority of land descriptions in the state. Surveys of the public lands result in descriptions that are easy to identify by their reference to Sections, Townships and Ranges. Well developed statutory and case law applies to these descriptions and I’ll not address these further. Within both public lands and rancho lands however, conveyances often split parcels described using a mix of measurements (metes) and calls to boundaries (bounds). These metes and bounds descriptions may also be mixed up with other sorts of designations such as lots and blocks or fractions of townships to create a hybrid form of description. It is unnecessary to further examine these permutations to glean some common elements of concern in old descriptions.

Metes and bounds generally

Metes are simply measured values. Generally, measurements in legal descriptions are angular or distance. Angular measurements are almost always given in degrees oriented from North or South and turning to East or West. By making the number of degrees less than 90, it was much easier in the past for hand calculations of angles to be completed without error. Hence, it is still standard practice today to refer to a direction midpoint between North and East as N 45° E. This form is often called “surveyor’s bearings” or just “bearings.” The complement to angular measurement is distance expressed in some unit of length. Today, the U.S. Survey Foot is used in California, but in the past other versions of feet were used, meters occasionally, chains frequently, and in some older descriptions, Spanish varas. All of these may be found in legal descriptions. Together, an angle and distance are the necessary elements to describe a line and, by combining several lines in sequence, a parcel.

Clues by observation of unusual forms of precision within measurements

One clue within metes is revealed in the form or precision of the measurements. For example, if angles are consistently given in degrees and minutes or in degrees, minutes and the nearest 30 seconds, that fact likely indicates that a surveyor prepared the measurements using an older instrument such as a compass or theodolite that was limited to these less precise increments. Of course, old compass bearings can be much less precise that the nearest minute, but seeing any form of angular precision expressed in units other than the nearest second, should raise a red flag. This is because less angular precision implies an era of measurement technology that may not meet modern expectations. Similarly, if the distance measurements are rounded to the half foot or nearest foot, again, the source of the measurement is potentially ancient and implicates concerns that may not be apparent without further analysis. On the flipside, other situations occasionally happen where distances were expressed to the nearest thousandths of a foot (e.g. 40.001 feet). This seems to occur after about 1900 when instruments were becoming more precise, but still not up to modern expectations. In these situations, caution is again warranted but for a difference reason. The additional precision we observe was intended to avoid rounding errors in computations but did not necessarily reflect accuracy at the implied level of millimeters. The standard units of measurement used modernly are degrees, minutes and seconds measured to the nearest second, and distances measured to the nearest hundredth of a foot. For example, “thence N 25°11’ 23” E a distance of 99.97 feet.” These are forms of convention, but do not necessarily reflect an accuracy implied at these levels of precision. Accuracy for modern surveys varies according to the purpose of the survey and is often explained separately in a surveyor’s notes. A modern surveyor has the ability to measure as accurately as required, but will generally assert less accuracy than might be implied by the units of precision reported in the modern conventional form.

Clues by References to old instruments of conveyance

Clues may also be found in references to ancient documents or parties. For example, is there a reference to a record instrument that doesn’t match the modern form of the recorder in a particular county? Are there conveyances, partitions or decrees referenced that occurred prior to about 1940? Another clue may be missing hyperlinked documents if the description is being examined in a title report prepared by a title insurance company. The missing links may indicate older record to which the title company did not have electronic access. Another clue is party names mentioned within a description. For example, one might read, “thence a bearing and distance to a line as agreed upon with Sally Giacomini.” Who is Sally Giacomini? Is she still alive? Is she your client’s grandmother? Is there any record of her existence? Sometimes these answers may not be known, but if it is discovered that Sally was a distant predecessor in interest, then this information is a helpful clue in dating at least the provenance of a portion of the description.

Clues by Reference to Bounds

Clues may also exist in the adjoiners or boundary calls contained within the description. Metes and bounds descriptions often, course by course, measure around the perimeter of a parcel, but may also call out the name of an adjoining neighbor. If none of the adjoining names are currently neighbors, then a reader can reasonably conclude the description must have been written at a earlier period of time, perhaps considerably earlier. If warranted, additional research in the chain of title can reveal when and who such parties were. Another clue is bounds whose identity seems quaint or antiquated. For instance, older surveyors often marked property corners by reference to trees. For example, a description might read, “thence a bearing and distance to the southeasterly corner of said parcel, from which point a 42” inch black oak tree bears N18°W a distance of 27 feet.” Here, the black oak tree likely refers to an ancient boundary call that may no longer exist, but purports that such a tree did exist when the description was written. Modern surveyors do not generally call to trees (unless retracing an earlier surveyor who did) and modern calls are required to reference more permanent and easily identifiable marks such as brass tags, metal disks, etc.[iii] The older practice of bounds described as trees, rocks, or topographical features of the land, all provide clues to the alert practitioner.


In summary, by seeing measurements reported in a form less precise than expected (or significantly more precise), by observing unusual or archaic units of measurement, by noting ancient record instruments not easily locatable, or by identifying boundary calls or party names that are long out of existence, a practitioner will often find clues that assist in identifying a legal description that could contain hidden or unexpected problems due to the technology of the era not meeting modern expectations for accuracy or precision.


Clues within Lot and Block descriptions

As California exploded in population after the gold rush at the time of statehood, many communities were established and land speculation was rampant. Land speculation involved enormous divisions of land and eventually sub-divisions of that land into platted lots and blocks suitable for development of streets, utilities, homes, factories and businesses. Of course the pressure to develop and sell land quickly was enormous and with that came the specter of fraud. It is a consequence of land fraud specifically[iv] that licensure of land surveyors after 1891 was required via the Land Surveyors Act[v]. Because of this explosion in growth, most urban lots (unless more recently redeveloped) in most cities in California date to the time period between 1850 and 1900. Additionally, more suburban and rural lots, divided later, may still rely on parent parcels initially measured and described in that era.

Identifying lot and block descriptions is as simple as looking for a lot number and recorded map referenced in a description. The form of such a legal description will clearly identify a lot and block and recording information of the subdivision map, e.g. “Lot 83, Block 12, Blackacre Subdivision, as recorded in Map Book H, Pages 93-97.” Or similarly, a portion of such lots described as,

“A portion of Lots 82 and 83, Block 12, Blackacre Subdivision,…more particularly described as Beginning at the Southeast corner of said lot 82, thence…a string of bearings and distances back to the Point of Beginning.”

Note that this type of description may be quite lengthy and in the form of metes and bounds, but is fundamentally based on the underlying simultaneous division of lots. Any survey of such description will need to retrace the underlying lots (perhaps quite ancient lots) before being able to locate the described property lines. So, the clue to these two types of descriptions, let’s call them lot descriptions and lot derivative descriptions, is to understand that the date of the subdivision is of key import. If a practitioner sees that a client’s property description references a subdivision that is older than about 1940, further scrutiny is warranted.

In old divisions of land, one place to scrutinize is the subdivision map itself. For this relatively simple task, a good legible copy of the subdivision map is needed. Availability of this is not a given. Many times title companies provide a reduced scale map of the subdivision plat referenced in a deed, but the map is perfectly illegible. Of course, this is not adequate, but finding legible copies may be a challenge. While most county recorders do not provide official records online, the County Surveyors often will. If so, this is usually a good source of the official map (although often labelled as officially unofficial), since the County Surveyor is generally interested in the substance of the map and will therefore publish more legible copies. So, if the title company provides a poor copy, a practitioner may ask a title officer to obtain a better one, visit the recorder’s office in person, or perhaps find the record online through the County Surveyor’s office.

With a good clean copy of an old subdivision map, the attorney may examine the notes of the map and the graphics and especially the legend shown on the map. One important clue is understanding whether and if so how, the subdivision lots and streets were monumented or physically marked. It was common practice in later times (post WWII) to place steel rods and/or concrete posts in the centerline of streets at intersections or where directions of the centerline changed. If so, this will most likely be shown on the map as small circles or boxes along the street centerlines. But, use caution as the notes or legend should clearly state that such symbols in fact denote physical monuments set by the surveyor. On some maps, these symbols are simply measuring points and do not indicate any permanent marks set on the ground. In other cases, no graphic symbols will be shown but notes may indicate that monuments were placed. As long as monuments are indicated or noted, a huge potential problem has been sidestepped. Congratulate yourself and your client! On the other hand, many problems may arise in old subdivisions that show no original monuments to have been set.

A lack of physical markers is a valuable clue gleaned from an old map that is easily discerned. Unmonumented subdivisions are problematic for several reasons. First, it would be a mistake to think that any subdivision not monumented, was necessarily not surveyed. That is possible and is more common in maps pre-dating 1891[vi]. But, what often happened was that the surveyor creating those “unmonumented” subdivisions would place semi-permanent wood stakes on property lines as builders developed lots over time. This was self-serving because the surveyor thereby provided himself (surveyors then were almost always men) with a steady supply of work thereafter staking or restaking lots for the builders of homes. This practice also tended to stifle competition because competitors would lack nearby, reliable reference points for their measurements.

Consequently, this increased the time (and cost) required of a new surveyor to complete the equivalent work product. The net result is that homes in the subdivision may be correctly located (aligned to streets with proper setbacks), but with the passing of time, surviving evidence (wood stakes) has disappeared or is of an unknown pedigree or index of reliability[vii]. As time passes, the difficulty of retracing a lot or block within an old unmonumented subdivision increases substantially. This clue regarding permanent marks (or lack thereof) is invaluable to the practitioner advising a client owner in options related to locating a property boundary.


A crucial indirect consequence of unmarked or unmonumented subdivisions is that a modern surveyor has an indeterminate amount of work to re-create or re-trace the relevant portion of that old subdivision. This indeterminacy creates a hidden conflict of interest. Consider:

1) The client, attorney or homeowner, knows next to nothing about surveying.

2) The Professional Surveyor knows this and also knows that the client will likely “shop” several surveyors asking for “quotes” and will subsequently choose a surveyor who seems to offer the best bang for the buck. Perhaps not the cheapest surveyor, but likely one who seems responsive and reasonably priced.

3) Surveyors who engage in this type of survey work (and many surveyors don’t for reasons that will become evident), know they must price their work accordingly or go out of business.

4) As a result, surveyors either omit important information about the proposed work of which the client is too ignorant to ask, or include coded language carefully limiting what the surveyor is agreeing to do – again at the expense of the unwitting client.

5) The “winning” surveyor thereby stays in business, offers an arguably marginal service, and when his work periodically blows up, defends his conduct on carefully worded phrases included in the contract or in key omissions to the same, of which the client will only belatedly understand the import.

The conflict of interest is a business practice which pits the surveyor’s interest for her client against the surveyor’s self interest in staying in business. A surveyor can choose to lower her price by lowering the amount of work that she does, but she does so with the understanding that her client could be adversely impacted. The surveyor may not “know” with certainty (that would be fraud), but she has reason to know generally about the inherent problems of old subdivisions, and the resulting indeterminate nature of the amount of work required to retrace such a subdivision.

Hence, the conflict of interest. Will a surveyor disclose fully and risk overwhelming her client with details and explanations? Or, like the imagined competition, will she disclose minimally, set fixed prices, and use bullets to emphasize what she knows the client is looking for (and a lot of small print about what isn’t included)? Does the boundary surveyor become the Trusted Advisor or the Lowest Bidder? Such is the real conundrum facing the typical boundary surveyor.


The Land Surveyor’s Act of 1891

A solution to the dilemma of distinguishing “cheap” from “inadequate” is found within the original Land Surveyor’s Act of 1891. To paraphase:

1) Request the Land Surveyor make a survey of the land described.

a. If the owner or attorney wants the survey to include only a single line (such as for a fence)[viii], beware that the cost for that single line may not greatly differ from the cost of surveying the entire lot because the surveyor’s duty requires him to survey the “land” on all sides of any particular line. So, at a minimum any line surveyed should include an examination of how that line is described from both neighbor’s descriptions, a determination that those descriptions are consistent (no gap or overlap), and that the overall land described can be retraced from either the larger subdivision of lots, blocks and streets, or more generally, from the parent parcels used to create the smaller subsequent divisions. Obviously, the surveyor needs to consider more than just the patent description, but the danger to the client lies in trying to “whittle down” the surveyor’s scope of work. A surveyor may comply, but will do so in ways that reduce his time (and cost) with certain caveats, the consequences of which the client is not likely to understand.

b. Example: Two neighbors are concerned about replacing their shared fence. They contact several surveyors and select one whose scope of work states:

· Stake the east line of client’s property per description provided by client using wood stakes set at the endpoints of the lines.

· No title report is provided this surveyor.

· No effort will be made to examine neighboring title information.

· The two nearest found monuments shall be used for this task

· No permanent monuments shall be set.

c. If this survey were to occur in an old subdivision, there would likely be problems created by the lack of work the surveyor is agreeing to do. Here, the surveyor is relying on the client to provide the description of the line location requested. Hence, the surveyor is stating that he will not be looking to confirm that the adjoining land parcels do not overlap or conflict with one another. Such scope of work would ordinarily be required in a survey of a parcel, but arguably is not required when staking the location of two points marking the beginning and end of a line. Here, the surveyor has reduced his fee, but it comes at a hidden cost to his client who may be swamped in litigation at a later date. In this example, the neighbors after several years learn that a latent defect in the old subdivision created alternate possible positions of the line in question. This belated knowledge comes at great headache and cost to the owners who, mistrusting each other based on the shoddy surveyor’s lack of diligence, find other disagreements which destroys the harmony and peace of the neighborhood. But the surveyor’s defense is his written contract – he provided exactly what the client requested. Furthermore, he has lowered his cost slightly by not setting any permanent markers and more significantly has thereby also avoided the requirement to file a record of his survey. Again, this reduces his cost in drafting a map, but also avoids any public scrutiny of his work and keeps everyone except his client ignorant of the existence of the very marginal nature of the survey he conducted.

Best Practices: When asking for a survey, ask for a survey of the land, not just a specific line. If cost is the consideration, then be clear with the surveyor that the client has no interest in sacrificing quality in exchange for expense. A quality survey of a single line may cost less than a quality survey of the entire parcel, but both are priceless when compared to a cheap (and inadequate) survey. A survey of the land will provide certain statutory protections to the client that are arguably not available in more discrete surveys of line segments[ix].


2) Request permanent and reliable monuments be set at the endpoints of all lines defining the land surveyed.

a. Permanent monuments must identify the surveyor setting them, but they should also be identified for what they are, namely, a “property corner – not to be disturbed under penalty of law.” So often, surveyors will meet the letter of the law by setting a piece of steel rebar with a plastic cap inscribed with their name. The plastic is susceptible to sun, fire and lawnmowers and often gets unintentionally knocked off. The rebar, now unmarked, looks like a garden stake and owners or fence installers inadvertently remove it without thinking. This is unfortunate because such corners form the tangible evidence of the entire cadaster of our system of land title.

b. Example: An owner requests a surveyor stake her property lines for a new fence. The surveyor complies by setting wooden hubs in the ground at all four lot corners. This works fine for the purpose of constructing the fence, but those corners will not be of record and are not of a permanent character. In the event anyone wishes to know the property line locations in the future, there will likely be no surviving evidence and the survey work will need to be repeated. Again, this is rather self-serving of the surveyor.

Best Practice: Requiring the surveyor to set permanent markers at the endpoints of all lines surveyed for a parcel adds immeasurably to the value of the survey and meets the spirit of the law. Furthermore, to inscribe a little more information on their marks, or offset them slightly from a fence corner, adds only a nominal cost to the survey work but significantly enhances the value of the property and promotes long term harmony with neighbors.


3) Request a map of the survey be prepared and the map recorded for the public record.

a. Survey maps may be recorded at a surveyor’s discretion, but on some occasions are required (such as when setting monuments that did not previously exist). The cost of recording varies by County and by the hassle (sometimes significant) imposed by the County Surveyor’s review. Whatever this cost happens to be, the return on investment is worth it. First, the client and surveyor both know to expect this scope of work. The surveyor does not have to scheme or connive to find ways of avoiding triggering the mandatory recording of his or survey – such as setting temporary wooden stakes mentioned above. Again, avoiding recording may be helpful to a surveyor selected for lowest bid, but is in conflict with the client’s best interests.

b. Example: A surveyor is selected to perform a survey in an old lot and block subdivision. The surveyor’s scope of work does not include filing a record of the survey. The surveyor in the course of the work discovers a “trigger”, such as evidence that could result in materially alternate positions of a line[x]. The surveyor is now required to file a record of the survey, but the client refuses to pay for the additional cost. The surveyor should have advised his or her client this was likely to occur in an old subdivision, but in retrospect, the client either feels misled and taken advantage of or the surveyor doesn’t get paid and thereby files an inadequate record or no record at all. Both options are problematic and should be avoided.

Best Practices: In a situation where a description references an old lot and block description (or otherwise hints at antiquity), the practitioner should advise an owner that a record of the survey will likely be required and the advantages to be gained of recording a survey of record for perpetuity. Except when recording would be superfluous, I advise recording survey maps as a matter of routine practice to add value to the property and promulgate the continuity of records dating back to the inception of title. A chain of surveys, when such exists, can be extremely helpful in later evaluating conditions or questions of title.


[i] See Bryan v Blevins, 884 P.2d 1034 (1994), deferring to the “sanctity of true and accurate legal descriptions” and thereby inferring that a boundary is not uncertain if it can be ascertained by an accurate survey. See also Martin v Ven Bergen, 209 Cal. App. 4th 84 (2012). [ii] Brown, Wilson and Robillard, Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Surveying, Fifth Ed. at p 420. [iii] Prof. Land Surveyor’s Act Sec. 8772 [iv] See Uzes, Francois D., Chaining the Land, pp 168-184, for a detailed account of the Benson Syndicate’s fraudulent surveys in land speculation beginning in 1873 through Benson’s indictment by a grand jury in 1887. [v] The Professional Land Surveyors Act, Gov. Code Sec. 8700 et. seq. was originally enacted in 1891. [vi] See Sections 10 and 11, Chapter CCLV of the Statutes of California, approved March 31, 1891, authorizing licensees “to make surveys relating to the sale or subdivision of lands”, “to set permanent and reliable monuments”…”marked with the initials of the surveyor setting them”, “to file with the Recorder”…”a record of [such] survey”…and ”containing all the data necessary to enable any competent practical surveyor to retrace the survey.” [vii] It is common knowledge among surveyors that certain surveyors of old were notorious for setting reference marks that were not at apparent intersections or endpoints of lines. Hence, unless a person had access to the records of such a surveyor, the discovery of such evidence can be confusing or even misleading. [viii] PLS Act Sec. 8764(g) allows that a “…survey need not consist of a survey of an entire property.” [ix] PLS Act Sec. 8764 sets forth certain requirements for a survey to be included of record, including the relationship the surveyed land or lines share with other adjacent parcels or senior conveyances. [x] PLS Act Sec. 8762(b)(3) [xi] PLS Act Sec. 8764, 8771, 8772, requiring among other things describing all monuments found or set, showing bearings and distances of property lines and describing basis of bearings, documenting the source of the legal description used, showing relationships with adjacent tracts and senior conveyances, adding any other data necessary for the intelligent interpretation of the various items and locations of the points, lines and areas shown on the survey, and setting sufficient monuments to ensure the easy reestablishment of any point or line of the survey.


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