Government Rights in Land


Every parcel of land must be legally described and recorded.

3 Types of legal description of land:

  1. Metes & Bounds-Measurements & Boundaries.
  2. Rectangular Survey System – A system established in 1785 by the federal government, the Rectangular Survey System uses principal meridians and base lines to describe land or parcels. This federal land survey system has been applied to most of the land added to the United States since the system was adopted. It is also sometimes referred to as the Public Land Survey System or the, Section & Township System.
  3. Lots Block- Lot, Block, and Tract System or Subdivision System.

Subdivided Lands Law (State)

This law

  1. promotes orderly community development,
  2. regulates the construction and design of improvements to existing property,
  3. works to ensure that any areas that are dedicated to public use do not become burdens on taxpayers, and
  4. protects the public from fraud.

Anyone who is subdividing real property has to gain local approval and record a suitable map before consummating the relevant real estate transaction as a result of the Subdivision Map Act. Individuals who violate the Subdivision Map Act can face criminal fines, jail time, and civil injunctions.

  • Large Parcels of land; five or more acres.
  • Department of Real Estate Commissioner issues a public report good for 5 years from the date of issuance.

California Subdivision Map Act (Local)

The Subdivision Map Act is the California state law relevant to dividing up real property. “Subdivided lands” and “subdivision” refer to improved or unimproved land or lands, wherever situated within California, divided or proposed to be divided for the purpose of sale or lease or financing, whether immediate or future, into five or more lots or parcels.

The Subdivided Lands Act regulates public offerings of land in subdivisions for sale or lease and is interpreted and enforced by the California Department of Real Estate. This law promotes orderly community development, regulates the construction and design of improvements to existing property and works to ensure that any areas that are dedicated to public use do not become burdens on taxpayers. The Subdivision Map Act has potential implications for individuals who are financing, leasing, or selling real estate in the state of California.

California cities and counties are responsible for implementing and enforcing the Subdivision Map Act. The law has the further effect of protecting the public from fraud. Under the Subdivision Map Act, anyone who is subdividing real property has to gain local approval and record a suitable map before consummating the relevant real estate transaction. Individuals who violate the Subdivision Map Act can face criminal fines, jail time, and civil injunctions. They may also be unable to get government permits after violating this law.

The purpose of the Map Act is to regulate and control design and improvement of land; include proper consideration for their relation to adjoining areas; require subdividers to install streets and other improvements; prevent fraud and exploitation; and protect both the public and purchasers of subdivided lands. Subdivision ordinances are upheld unless they conflict with state law or occupy the field of regulation already occupied by state law.

  • Requires the mapping of all new subdivisions
  • Requires planning commission approval
  • Cities & Counties are granted control over the design of a subdivision with 1 or less parcel
  • Tentative Map required by local ordinances
  • Master Plan is generated by cities and counties

Township and Section Description

  • A method divides land into a grid of two different lines
  • Meridians – North/South lines – Vertical Lines
  • Base Lines – East and West or Horizontal Lines

Condo – Buyer purchases a UNIT (qualified as space), which is separately owned, and receives an undivided interest in the common grounds. Owner owns or has direct control over the interior space, from the paint inward of the unit and receives title. Owner has no direct responsibility for plumbing, electrical wires, windows, roofing, exterior paint or walls, landscaping.

Land Project Subdivision – A new subdivision of 50 or more unimproved lots being developed into a residential subdivision. Buyers have 14 days to rescind their decision to purchase since the land is undeveloped.

Planned Development – This is the ownership of separate land, and the shared ownership of common grounds. Owners receive title.

Stock Cooperative – This is when a corporation is formed and holds title. The owners or buyers receive stock to show ownership. Property is transferred by stock sale, not title sale.

HOA – When there exists a Homeowners Association (HOA) for the Condominium, the seller must give the buyer 3 things. (1) CC&R’s, (2) Financial Statements, and (3) Bylaw’s.

IN-FILL LAND – A common term used for undeveloped residential land in a developed neighborhood.

Commercial Acre – An acre minus space for streets and parking.


Township – 6 square miles by 6 square miles, 36 square miles, or Section

Section – One square mile inside a township

Mile – 5,280 Feet OR 8 Furlongs OR 80 Chains

Chain – 66 feet OR 100 links (each link is 7 5/8 inches)

Square Mile – 27,878,400 square feet

Acre – 43,560 square feet

Section – is 640 acres ½ Section= 320 acres ¼ Section = 160 acres

Example of description; NE corner of SW ¼ of section 21

Township – 36 Sections or 36 square miles.

(Note the numbering sequence)                        (Note the divisions of a section)

Section – 1 square mile


Method where an object is selected as a fixed point and the boundaries of the land are described in distances from that one point (This method is not the most efficient).

Metes and bounds is a method of describing land using compass directions and distances of the boundaries. It literally means to measure the limits of a boundary to create the “legal description” of the land or parcel of property. Metes and bounds uses carefully measured distances, angles, and directions, with their terminal points and angles and is often used in connection with the Government Survey System.

  • Metes – A length of measurement by feet, yards, and inches.
  • Bounds(boundaries) starting points, ending points, and markers in between; used to describe boundaries. Natural or man-made landmarks such as trees, boulders, canals, fences, roads, streams, lakes, poles, and pins. Residential properties are sometimes identified by pins in the street. (Bounds are also measured by degrees of a compass.)
  • Surveyors use benchmarks – A permanently affixed marker that establishes the exact elevation of a place; used by surveyors in measuring site elevations or as a starting point.


Recorded map (lot, block, subdivision)—urban/residential


  • Land – “that which is immovable by law” can also be water and water rights.
  • Riparian Rights – Moving water like a stream, river, brook, or watercourse (Running water is real property). – It’s important to note that riparian rights are not ownership rights, rather they are rights of access to the water such as for drinking, bathing, or irrigation. Other examples of riparian rights include swimming, boating and fishing; the right to erect structures such as docks, piers, and boat lifts out to a point of navigability; the right to use the water for domestic purposes; the right to accretions caused by water level fluctuations; and the right to exclusive use if the body of water is not navigable.
  • Littoral Rights – Non-moving water such as a pond, lake, ocean. – Littoral land is different from riparian land. Littoral rights and obligations are incidental to the ownership of land bordering a lake, bay, delta, sea, or ocean; and thus affected by the tide currents. Littoral rights are generally concerned with the use and enjoyment of the shore, but also may include rights to use the water similar to riparian rights.
  • Appropriation – Government action giving water rights of a landowner to the public. – Water is a precious resource in California, and maintaining its quality is of utmost importance to safeguard the health of the public and the environment. The appropriation doctrine was developed due to the scarcity of water in the Western United States that allows California to exercise the right of appropriation when there’s a reason to divert water for public use.
  • Accession – Addition of land by the events of man or water movement (says it’s yours). – When forces, like moving water, add land to property this is known as accession.  Imagine a creek that flows along one side of several properties. As the creek moves, it picks up small amounts of sand, silt, soil, and rocks (called alluvium) and deposits these further downstream (called alluvium deposits) on another property. The property receiving the alluvium deposits is increasing in size. The owner of that growing property is gaining property by accession.
  • Accretion – The increase of land by the action of water, rivers, etc…. (how it got there). – Accretion is the gradual natural increase of land by the action of wind or water. Accretion is the act of the deposit that increases or reduces the bank or shores bordering a body of water by imperceptible degrees, or gradually.
  • Alluvion – The land or soil that is moved or deposited by accretion (What it is). – Alluvion refers to the land material (the sand, silt, and soil) itself deposited or removed. The result of these deposits increase or reduce the bank or shores of a body of water by imperceptible degrees, or gradually. This “new” land belongs to the riparian owner of the shoreline, subject to any existing right-of-way over the bank.
  • Avulsion – The sudden loss of land by the actions of water (natural occurrence). – Like accretion, avulsion is a loss or addition to land, but rather than slowly over time, it occurs suddenly. When the course of a river that forms the boundary between two parcels of land is abruptly changed resulting in one landowner losing part of his land and another owner’s land increasing, this is avulsion. For example, a flood changes the course of currents resulting in separating land from one person’s property and joining it to another’s.
  • Reliction – The increase in land by the withdrawal of a river, ocean, or lake. – Reliction is the increase in land by the permanent withdrawal of a river, sea, or lake. When “new” land is gradually and permanently exposed that was previously underwater, this is a reliction and also known as dereliction. The law generally recognizes that land created by reliction is owned by the property owners whose lands abut the newly created land.

When new land is added through accession, accretion, or reliction, that land is now titled to the landowner and is the legal transfer or addition of land.

Accession is the acquisition of title to additional land or to improvements because of the annexation of fixtures or due to alluvial deposits along the banks of streams by accretion.

Who would benefit from Accretion? The person who owns the land increased in size due to accession or reliction.