Legal Descriptions

A land description is a description of a parcel of land in legally acceptable terms that shows exactly where it is located and the number of acres of land it contains. The trick in reading descriptions is to read them starting from the back end and continuing towards the front. In the U.P. (and about half of the country) the U.S. Rectangular Survey System is used.

IMG_1537“Metes & Bounds” land description describes the size and shape of a tract of land starting at a known specific point (an unchanging natural landmark or a surveyed permanent marker), and run a given number of feet in a particular direction, continuing around the perimeter, and eventually coming back to the “point of beginning”.

Plat books

Plat books showing the ownership of land and details such as lakes and streams, roads, and governmental boundaries are available from every county. They are sold by various offices depending on the county. The best place to ask is at the County Clerk, Register of Deeds, or Cooperative Extension office. Helpful information on reading land descriptions is included in the front of the plat book.

Subdivision Control Act (REVISED 1/22/97)

Under the new regulations (Public Act 591 of 1996) land may be divided into the following maximum number of parcels of any size in any 10 year period of time without formal platting:

20 acres: 7 splits; 40 acres: 9 splits; 80 acres: 13 splits; 120 acres: 17 splits. For each additional 40 acres 1 additional split is allowed. Up to two additional splits for keeping more than 60% of the parcel and bring road access to the property may also be allowed.

By way of example, a square mile can now be divided into 30 parcels of any size. If more splits are desired a plat must be filed, which routinely takes two years. Platting includes reviews by the Land and Water Management Division, the Michigan Departments of Transportation, Health, and Treasury, and various local regulators. Part of the focus of the Act is to insure that each lot has access and to insure that the building site is not prone to flooding up to the 100-year flood levels. Because of the time and expense involved the platting process acts as more of a barrier to development than a guide. Further legislation is expected.

Under the old law a subdivision was required if land was divided into 5 or more parcels of 10 acres or less in any ten year period of time, regardless of ownership. Any number of parcels larger than 10 acres could be split off without complying with the Act. That is why 10 acre parcels are so common in the U.P. That will not be true in the future.

Michigan Land Sales Act

When land is divided into 25 or more parcels registration with the state is required under the Land Sales Act and all purchasers must receive a copy of the Property Report.


Zoning regulates land use. Most U.P. property is zoned. Detailed information on the zoning classification of any specific parcel of land is available from the Zoning Administrator of the township or county where the property is located. Rural zoning may allow only “seasonal” homes. This does not mean you are limited as to how much time you can live there and use it. The “seasonal” designation is rather a warning not to expect services such as a school bus, garbage pickup, plowing and other services paid by the township or the county. Zoning usually includes building setbacks from the edges of the parcel of land and from any rivers or lakes.

Regardless of the zoning, I believe we all have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land while we have it for those who follow in the future, and I strongly encourage landowners to visit the County Conservation District office and/or your County Extension office where much helpful advice is available.

Other Laws & Regulations

Many other issues including civil rights, fair housing, handicaps, construction codes, and truth in lending are covered by laws affecting real estate. This section of this web site is intended as a guide to your further research. It is beyond the scope of this review to discuss all laws and regulations that could affect your land.

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