If you owned a piece of land, would you own it all the way down to the center of the earth?
I have been asked this question off and on over the years I have been selling real estate. The simple answer is “Yes”, but like anything else – there is more to it than that.
Every property has a Legal Description that “describes” the property boundaries. These boundary descriptions are 2-dimensional. By 2 dimensional I mean that the description covers north, east, west and south boundaries without addressing depth or height. Because these descriptions don’t address depth or height, it is assumed your property goes all the way to the center of the earth and all the way into outer space.
Here is an example from Hennepin County. This property is owned by the City of Plymouth and happens to be a Metes and Bounds description. The example property is outlined in Red. The top of the image shows the property is located in the N1/2 of Section 17, Track 118, Range 22. (PLSS)
(On a side note: (you should begin to see how the PID – Property Identification Number is created… 1711822230001, that PID number will bring you directly to the property in the plat book.)
Metes & Bounds:
Legal Description: COM ON S LINE OF W 1/2 OF NW 1/4 AT A PT 654 4/10 FT W FROM SE COR THEREOF TH W TO SW COR THEREOF TH N TO CTR LINE OF CO ROAD NO 9 TH ELY ALONG SAID CTR LINE TO A PT DIS 654 64/100 FT WLY ALONG SAID CTR LINE FROM E LINE OF W 1/2 OF NW 1/4 TH S 1927 94/100 FT TO BEG EX ROAD
As you can see in this Legal Description, there is no mention of the depth or height of the property . It merely “describes” the outline of the property in 2 dimensional terms. With no description identifying the depth and height of the property, it is assumed it runs to the center of the earth and to outer space.
The reality is, airplanes fly over private property all the time without tying up court rooms for trespassing violations. So do you really own out into outer space? If you had a lot of free time and LOT of money you could probably challenge that in court – with no real victory.
Owning to the center of the earth. Well, this gets a little grey too. It is clearly not defined in the Legal Description, so it is assumed the property runs to the center of the earth. This then begins to get into another part of real estate law that defines “Mineral Rights”.
Each State will have their own Real Estate laws that get into defining “Mineral Rights”. It is very common in parts of Minnesota to purchase land and not have rights to the minerals. For example, I own a small piece of land in northern Minnesota – I purchased the property without Mineral Rights. (there was not an option to obtain the rights, those rights had been conveyed away years ago.). So if I happened to discover Gold or Oil buried below my property, I do not have legal rights to those minerals. Those mineral belong to whoever “owns the mineral rights”. Most “Mineral Rights” in Minnesota are in private party hands, people or mining companies. If the person who owns those mineral rights wants to access those minerals, they will have to compensate me to get access to them or tunnel under my property to get at them. (This is obviously a very generalized description of how mineral rights work from a conceptual stand point. If you find yourself in this situation, you will want to get competent legal advice.) If you would like to read more about Mineral Rights in Minnesota, the MN DNR has nice piece on this topic. http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/lands_minerals/mineralownership.pdf
If you want to determine if you own Mineral Rights to your property, that information can be obtained in a Title Search by a Title Company or at the County. If you are purchasing property, the Title Company will run a Title Search and you will likely know ahead of time – assuming you are working with a reputable brokerage and Title Company.
You can see how this question easily becomes a “Yes, and No” answer. In a general sense, the answer is Yes, in practical application it often times is No.
Dis I answer this question clearly? Let me know if you have further questions or want clarification.