What are Metes and Bounds?

Metes and bounds are types of measurements used in land surveying.
Metes and bounds are types of measurements used in land surveying.

Metes and bounds is a system used by land and quantity surveyors to describe land and real estate properties using accurately measured angles, distances, and directions based on the magnetic north. Metes refer to the boundary defined by measurement of a straight line, the distance between two points of the land, and the magnetic orientation of the land. Bounds refer to the general boundary description of the land which may include roads, buildings, or streams. To describe land using the system of metes and bounds, one is required to begin from a known geographic landmark start point, and follow the northward compass direction or the magnetic bearing. Some of the landmarks used in describing the land may include natural physical features like rivers, streams, large trees like the oak, or man-made features like roads. Metes and bounds are used mostly when the tract of land in question is irregularly shaped.

History and Origin of Describing Land Using Metes and Bounds

Metes and bounds are more popular in the United States than in any other part of the world. The system was first used between 1275 and 1325 in England. It was then used in the thirteen colonies that formed the United States before being spread to other neighboring parts of Canada and the other states. In the 19th century, especially during the times of Revolutionary War, the land was sold and described in terms of metes and bounds. The use of metes and bounds has been declining due to the discovery of new land measuring and describing systems. However, the system is still used in some of the US states that pioneered its use like New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland. The system is also still common in Ontario, Canada.

Limitations of Metes and Bounds

Using metes and bounds tends to be confusing and difficult to understand by the majority of the ordinary population around the world. Furthermore, it is clear that the compass point is not always accurately pointing to the north and it is constantly changing, a situation that reduces the accuracy and efficiency of metes and bounds. To describe the land using the metes and bounds system, it is necessary to have known landmarks at the beginning, but clearly, some landmarks keep on decaying, disappearing, and changing position. For example, if the corner of the land was marked by a stream that dried up over the years or a large tree that was cut down or dried up as the years passed, it becomes difficult to relocate the landmarks and the boundaries. The inability to relocate the landmarks often leads to land disputes. The difficulties that come with using metes and bounds have led to the system being replaced largely in the United States by other reliable land measuring and description systems like the rectangular system Torrens and lot, and block. However, it still remains popular in the Eastern regions of the United States where it was founded.


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