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  • Writer's pictureRichie Krug Jr

What is a township in real estate?

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

If you've been looking for a new house or some type of real estate property you've probably become familiar with such terms as curb appeal, school districts, square miles, real estate taxes, mortgage company, variety of school quality, tax payments, front yard, back yard, side yard, and backyard, and many more property descriptions when out and about then congratulations!

However, there may be one term that some people in various states have heard more often than others: township.

Today, towns and townships operate in 20 states, in three regions of the nation: New England, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Township vs. City

For example, a township is often mentioned in the real estate world and sometimes refers to a town.

A township is an administrative unit under state laws and policies. It administers and adapts state laws and policies to meet local community requirements.

A township is a type of municipality that has been given a special status by state law. Townships are usually smaller than cities and towns, but larger than villages. They are not considered part of any county, and they may be incorporated as independent municipalities.

What's a Town and What's a City?

What is considered a town? It is usually a rural area where people live together and although towns may sometimes be considered urban areas, they tend to be exceptions to the rule.

In comparison, a city has at least 2,500 people; a town has less than 2,500 people.

Townships' functions differ greatly from one municipality to another, but the main functions they perform include road upkeep and public assistance. Some townships serve as the administrative unit for schools, too.

Survey and Charter Townships

A town is sometimes referred to as a "town" because it has a charter (a legal document) or a survey (a map).

A survey township is just a geographical reference used to define property locations when they were first surveyed and platted by the General Land Office.

Survey townships are geographical references used to describe land ownership. They're typically 6-by-6-mile squares or 23,040-acre parcels.

Lots are small parcels of land that may be sold individually or combined to form larger properties. These subdivisions are usually governed by a municipality (a local government unit) instead of an individual state. They may also be called "subdivisions" (or sometimes "townships") or "census tracts."

For example, Michigan created charter townships as a way for cities and counties to provide services to their residents without having to rely solely on state funding.

Numbers Given

Township numbers are usually given a number based on the public land survey system which looks like T2N, and R3W for example. These notations are used when describing real estate properties based on the Public Land Survey System, and they're also used on USGS topographic map sheets.

Townships were originally mapped out by the U.S. government using contracted private survey crews and are now shown on the USGS topographic sheets.


Townships are generally square about 6 kilometers (3.7 mi) on a side with borders following meridian and parallel, containing 36 square kilometers (14 sq mi) per section, and may be part of a rectangular survey.

The northern and western parts of each township are designed to conform to the convergences of the eastern and western township line, as well as any errors in the surveying process, and so they differ somewhat from being exactly 1 square kilometer (640 acres) in size.

In some cases, irregular or fractional township divisions are used because full town shipping could not be surveyed due to existing senior boundaries such as Indian Reservations, Spanish ranches, etc.

More Examples

More examples include like In Kentucky, the Jefferson Purchase (the land east of the Cumberland River) is split into towns and counties.

In Tennessee, the whole of the Volunteer Territory is broken down into towns and counties.

In the extreme northern tip of Maine, there is an island called Grand Manan that is split into four parishes. The rest of the island is metes-and-boundaries.

In Vermont and New Hampshire, most of the land is metes-and boundaries, but there are small sections of the Green Mountains that are grid surveys.

Most of Ohio is grid-surveyed, but there are parts of the south and southeast that are metes-and-bounds.

Large swamps exist in Florida and Louisiana and parts of the Texas borderlands are grid-surveyed.

There are both New York and Pennsylvania forms of survey, but most of them include the eastern part of the state. However, there are some counties in the west where the survey lines don't follow the county boundaries. These are called "metes-and-bounds" because they're not bound by any legal land boundary.

Charter and Civil Townships

You might hear the word charter townships, too, so what is the difference between charter township boundaries and civil township boundaries?

A chartered town, found only in the state of Michigan, is similar in some respects to a civil town. If certain conditions are met, it is largely exempt from annexation by neighboring municipalities and has additional powers and duties of self-government.

A charter township may establish a variety of municipal services, such as a police force, fire department, and assessors, and also acquire property. It may also borrow money and issue bonds, with the approval of a majority of township voting in an election.

Similarly, a charter township cannot levy taxes without the approval of a majority of township voting in an election. This is one significant difference from home rule municipalities, in which the municipal authority can levy taxes without specific approval from voters.

Land, however, can still be transferred between municipalities through 425 Agreements.

If a charter township decides to become a city, they usually reorganize itself into counties, as was done in Wayne County, Michigan, for example.

To Township or Not township

Now you can add the word township to your real estate vocabulary and if it is an option for where you want to live.

Do hire a professional Realtor who can help you in your search for a township and your dream before making the final decision.

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