What Is The Rectangular Survey System In Real Estate?

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what is the rectangular survey system in real estate?

What Is The Rectangular Survey System In Real Estate?

The Rectangular Survey System, also called Public Land Survey System, is a method of mapping out land boundaries in the U.S. using a huge grid of rectangles. The grid is split into smaller portions known as quadrangles, townships, sections, half-sections, and quarter-sections, used for determining property boundaries in the United States.

When Was The Rectangular Survey System Established?

The rectangular survey system was introduced in 1785 to identify, divide, and measure land, establishing legal boundary lines for property proprietors. As the U.S. developed from its original 13 colonies, a system was required to determine who owned what land. This system was among the Land Ordinance initiated by President Thomas Jefferson in 1785.

Before the Rectangular Survey System was inaugurated, the Metes and Bounds survey was the only way to determine who owned what land. Metes and Bounds surveys still exist in many states, but they differ from the rectangular survey system in that they don't use a grid. Instead, they distinguish objects on the land, measurements, and compass directions.

The rectangular survey system is made up of principal meridian lines that run north to south across most of the United States and baselines that run east to west. These meridian lines are named to distinguish their location. Using those lines as a guide, quadrangles are created, which are smaller squares distinguished by their proximity to the principal meridian and baseline. These quadrangles are further subdivided into smaller squares knowns as townships. This cycle continues, establishing a smaller and smaller grid that may be used to pinpoint the exact location of any property.

What Is The Rectangular Survey System Used For?

The rectangular survey system, in conjunction with the Metes and Bounds survey method, is used for assessing land for sale and settlement. They are frequently combined to produce a more accurate representation of property boundaries.

How Do You Use the Rectangular Survey System?

Here's how to use the rectangular survey system:

  • Principal Meridians

The most extensive grid comprises two types of lines: principal Meridians and baselines. Principal Meridians run orthogonal to the equator, north to south, while baselines run from east to west parallel to the equator. When locating a property, you'll often refer to which principal meridian it is near. After that, the land is divided into quadrangles.

  • Quadrangles

The intersection of guide Meridians and standard parallels forms quadrangles. Guide Meridians are parallel with principal meridians and run north to south. Standard parallels run east to west alongside the baseline. The lines are positioned 24 miles apart, forming squares measuring 576 square miles.

It must be noted that quadrangles are not used when distinguishing land using the rectangular survey method.

  • Townships

Townships are within quadrangles and are 36 miles square, with 6 miles per side. Each quadrangle has 16 townships. Township locations are distinguished by tier or lines and ranges. Township lines run east to west parallel to the baseline, specifying how far a township is from north to south. Range lines run concurrent with the principal meridian, defining how far east and west the township is from that meridian.

It's worth noting that township locations are identified by referencing how far they're from the principal meridian and baseline. For instance, you can say, "it's in township 3 north, range 5 east," to define a property. That translates to 3 townships north of the baseline and 5 townships east of the primary meridian.

  • Sections

Townships are divided into sections, which are 36 blocks of one square mile each. Note that a township is 6 miles by 6 miles. Each section is marked, beginning from the top right corner and continuing in a serpentine pattern from left to right. One section measures 640 square acres; as such, it still covers a large piece of land and will need to be divided again.

Sections are then subdivided into half and quarter sections until the actual location of a property are identified.

Which States Use the Rectangular Survey System?

Many states use the Rectangular Survey System, including Ohio, Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and so on. However, the real estate exam won't question you about the states that employ the Rectangular Survey System or the Metes and Bounds system. Instead, they might ask you which survey system your state uses.

The real estate exam may also ask how much land is in a particular plot or section. Note that a township has 36 square miles, and each section is one square mile. One square mile equates to 640 acres.

If you want to see some examples of questions that will be on the actual real estate exam, check out our free real estate practice exam. We have been named as the best real estate exam practice for 7 years in a row!

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