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How wide is a property line?

How wide is a property line?  You may be asking yourself "Did he say that out loud"?  Well, Yes I did.  And here are the potential reasons why; see which one you can identify most with, then think about your own reason and add to the list.  I will list the first three (3) and you provide the rest.  First comment should be begin with the number four (4).

1. It has no width.  It is an abstract line;
2. It is as wide as the corner markers are;
3. It's as wide as you and your neighbor agree that it is.

This Content Originally Published by a land surveyor to Land Surveyors United Network

Views: 4531

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Reply by Lalith Senanayake on December 31, 2015 at 1:54am
11.Mathamatically it is a point,let human eye to deside the thickness,it is all relative,if you see it from a magnifying glass can see the difference!
Reply by Matt Harnett on December 18, 2012 at 3:00pm

7.  (I think)  Sometimes the line is as wide as the arborvitae planted on it.

8.  As wide as the fence placed on the line...or the posts.

9.  Probably it's abstract and doesn't truly exist.

10.  As wide as a scratch mark made with a brand new plumb bob point.

Reply by Tim K. on September 7, 2012 at 1:26pm

Thank you for your replay, Scott! I enjoy our correspondence, too, and it's great to have here a platform for this.

But I have to ask when you say: "Make the base of the rock cliff the boundary and merely reference it with a +/- relationship to placed survey monuments." I understand that a mathematical description is not necessary to find such a boundary as long as the natural monument is still in place. And a cliff for example is much more durable than a survey monument so it wouldn’t be suddenly gone one day. But how would you show such a boundary on a plat or map? And how would you calculate the area of a parcel with such a boundary as it can’t be described mathematically?

As far as I know (and I know my knowledge is still very limited) such a boundary wouldn’t be possible here. But the law here in Germany is as far as I know very different to the law in the US, and even in Germany there are no uniform laws for surveying. (But interestingly the basic problems of surveying seem to be the same everywhere in the world.)

But on the other hand we do have “water boundaries”, which are defined by the mean water level of a body of water, i. e. a river or stream (which are natural monuments, too, I guess). But even these are approximated by line segments when surveyed as far as I know and recorded as such. This probably makes sense, as the mean water level isn’t always visible when the water level is changing during the year. (Another problem is, that rivers sometimes (and sometimes not, it doesn’t seem to be easy) change their beds through things like erosion, and sometimes the boundary moves with it, making everything complicated. This is one of the things I believed to be impossible, as I thought boundaries couldn’t move, but obviously they can.)

I also know in former times natural monuments where important, and no-one cared if boundaries where straight lines, as it was enough to know: “I own all the land from this rock to this ditch.” But when the original surveys where performed (around 1875 in this area), these old boundaries where approximated with line segments. (To be fair, it wouldn’t have made much difference, as the approximation was good enough for the precision possible with the toolst hey had (chains and probably theodolites for their traverses). And the surveys where performed in a cheap and quick way, as the reason was to create tax maps; no-one could know that almost 50 years later a court would rule that these records would be legally binding for the land owners.)

Nowadays most property lines are straight, and when you see a boundary described by short line segments, it’s almost sure it’s a very boundary recorded during the original surveys (and maybe even existing since the Middle Ages). So even if boundaries described by natural monuments where possible, I think they wouldn’t play an important role any more (with exception of the water boundaries of cause).

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on September 5, 2012 at 10:23pm

Tim, your assessment rings true that land surveying is more an art than an exact science.

You said "But even if we had an exact line we wouldn't have a exact definition of this line, as it wouldn't be a geometrically describable line as a straight line or a circular arc. We could approximate it with straight lines, but we would a infinite number of them to describe it exactly, so all we can have is an approximation.", but I must add that there is danger in describing a line mathematically, especially in the presence of a natural monument, so to describe a property with math would be inherently inaccurate.

What would happen if we applied the math of line segments and tangent circular curves in defining the base of a cliff?

We could encounter a problem unless we define the shape of the rock without leaving the potential for a gap, gore, or overlap between our description and the actual rock.  Natural weathering and erosion of the rock changes its form.

Make the base of the rock cliff the boundary and merely reference it with a +/- relationship to placed survey monuments.

I thoroughly enjoy our correspondence.  I also, more than once, have thought something isn't possible and afterwards I found out it is indeed possible, maybe not even unusual.  In fact, most of what I know and enjoy is a product of the same.

Meld art with science, history, law, math, and public relations, and you might be able to approximate the role of the boundary surveyor.

Reply by Tim K. on September 1, 2012 at 10:26pm

I think such a natural monument often wouldn't define an exact line, as they in fact do have a with.

But in my opinion that wouldn't necessarily mean that the whole cliff or whatever the natural monument is the property line. If there isn't a more exact definition (i.e. by an agreement) one could for example use the middle of the natural monument. I know this is sometimes done with rivers or streams.

But sometimes it's probably not even possible do define exactly where such a natural monument begins and where it ends, so we don't have even an exact with. (With exact I mean as exact as we could measure a distance with the equipment available, not exact to the last atom.)

But even if we had an exact line we wouldn't have a exact definition of this line, as it wouldn't be a geometrically describable line as a straight line or a circular arc. We could approximate it with straight lines, but we would a infinite number of them to describe it exactly, so all we can have is an approximation.

Land surveying sometimes seems to be more an art than an exact science ...

Fortunately such boundaries are not usual here. (I can't say they don't exist at all. And more than once I thought something isn't possible and afterwards I found out it is indeed possible, maybe not even unusual.)

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on August 29, 2012 at 10:00pm

Tim, once again you are spot on!

You said, (yes, Mr. Obvious) "And if the line had a width, wouldn't that create two new lines parallel on both sides of the original line, which would be the boundaries between the property line and the properties on each side of the property line?"

So what happens to the width of the line if the boundary is a natural monument (not of a corner, but of an entire property line) such as the face of a rock outcrop, e.g. a cliff?

Reply by Tim K. on August 29, 2012 at 9:30pm

To give my unqualified opinion:

If a property line had a width, it would have an area. If it had an area, who would own this area of land?

I could think of two possibilities: Either both neighbors own it together, or no-one owns it (creating a strip of no man's land). I think both would create legal problems.

And if the line had a width, wouldn't that create two new lines parallel on both sides of the original line, which would be the boundaries between the property line and the properties on each side of the property line? If the property line had a width, wouldn't have these lines a width, too? So what about the boundary lines of these lines? And so on ...

By mathematical induction we could proof now, that every piece of land would be part of a property line. So either all land owners own every piece of land together, or no-one owns any land. Both is obviously wrong. (Or else there would be no need for surveyors.)

So a property line must have no width, option (1) is correct.

Of cause you can't determine the absolutely exact position of the line, but that won't give the line a width.

Also, I don't think (3) can be correct. I know neighbors can agree over the position of their property line if it can't be determined by a survey, but I never heard they could agree about the width of the line. Also the form for a boundary line agreement, published by the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Interior and Sports as appendix 10 of the administrative regulations for real estate surveys doesn't provide a space for the with of the property lines. (Unfortunately it's in German only, but you can believe me there is no such space.) So probably there is no need for such an agreement as lines don't have a width.

Also, option (3) doesn't sound realistic, as this would mean property lines would become quite wide if bigger monuments such as stones are used. Also, we have different symbols for stones, where the center of the stone marks the line, and stones, where the edge of the stone marks the line. (You can see them on the bottom of the second page of the form linked above, directly under the headline "3 Grenzmarken und Grenzpunkte" (boundary markers and boundary points).) This would be pointless, if the line had the same with as the stone.

So in my opinion the only correct option could be (1).

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on August 29, 2012 at 8:43pm

ePalmetto, I was thinking that there ought to be a defined width within the capabilities of modern surveying equipment.  If the precision of a particular piece of equipment is 0.01 feet, then wouldn't the line be at least that wide?  Of course, I am joking.  So how wide were property lines when the precision of the equipment consisted of a theodolite and a steel tape?  It must have been wider then than now.  Of course, I am joking.  So what color is the line?  No, I am not crazy, you will see the point of the whole thing by the end of this.

Reply by ePalmetto on August 29, 2012 at 1:56am

number six.  how wide is wide?

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on August 26, 2012 at 7:40pm

Karl, I am also looking forward to what is posted.  In Euclidean geometry, a point is a finite in it's position.  Two points of definition, within a void of finite, infinite, and subjective experiment, when connected by a line would logically tend to remain finite and singular.  However, think about the last time an attorney had continuing education credits in matters of science - unless they are defending science as a broad stroke in the pool of ambiguity, where the water is murky; opaque at best.

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