Legal Parcels of Land

Many property owners, or others, can determine the boundaries of a property with somewhat relative certainly based on the fences and streets around a property. Excluding easements, encroachments, and other encumbrances’ which affect the use of a property, how can one determine the true boundaries of a subject property with certainty? What follows does not look at the ownership of land or the use thereof, but rather the creation of the lot or parcel you determine is your subject property.

First and foremost, a “legal parcel” of land is one which was legally created in the County in which it is located, its situs. Additionally, just because a parcel of land was legally created does not mean that it is permittable to build or otherwise develop the land. Just because an assessor’s parcel number has been used /assigned to identify a specific lot, it does not mean a legal parcel exists and the “tax map” is accurate. Assessor parcel numbers are used mainly for tax collection purposes and are not a legal description.

Creation:

The simplest manner in which a parcel is created is through a deed from one owner to another. All deeds should include an assessor parcel number for reference and should include a precise description of the area of land in question; sometimes known, or described, as a metes and bounds description.

  • “Metes” are a piece of property’s boundary lines, as determined by measuring its “straight runs.” A straight run is the distance between two points.

“Bounds” is a term that is used to describe a property’s boundary lines in a more general sense.

  • Example:

COMMENCING AT AN IRON PIPE IN MOUND OF ROCK FROM WHICH THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF THE ISAAC LLOYD MONUMENT BEARS SOUTH 08 DEGREES EAST 82.3 FEET DISTANT; THENCE NORTH 33 DEGREES EAST 209 FEET TO IRON PIN IN MOUND OF ROCK; THENCE SOUTH 57 DEGREES EAST 209 FEET TO IRON PIN IN MOUND OF ROCK; THENCE SOUTH 33 DEGREES WEST 209 FEET TO IRON PIN IN MOUND OF ROCK; THENCE NORTH 57 DEGREES WEST 209 FEET TO IRON PIN IN MOUND OF ROCK, AND THE POINT OF BEGINNING.

In addition, legal parcels of land can be described as part of a land division map formally approved under the California Subdivision Map Act, plat maps, or tract maps depending on the era in which the parcel was created.

  • Example:

      LOT 1 IN BLOCK 2 OF OWENSMOUTH, IN THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES,       STATE OF CALIFORNIA, AS PER MAP RECORDED IN BOOK 19, PAGES 36 AND 37 OF MAPS, EXCEPT THEREFROM THE SOUTH 260 FEET THEREOF; AND       EXCEPTING ALSO THE EAST 20 FEET THEREOF, HERETOFORE CONVEYED TO   THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA BY GRANT DEED DATED SEPTEMBER 19, 1954.

Record of Survey:

A detailed map that documents and identifies the physical land boundaries or property lines for a specific parcel of land that is reviewed by the County and recorded with the County in which the land in question is located. This map represents a survey made on the ground and delineates the deeds described lines. Some, but not all Records of Surveys will reflect physical monuments set at corner points around a parcel and then delineates bearings and distances around the perimeter boundary.

A Record of Survey is required when:

“A licensed land surveyor or registered engineer establishes and is subject to the record of survey filing requirements when he or she represents beyond a reasonable doubt or dispute the location, relocation, establishment, reestablishment or retracement of a boundary or property line to another party according to the provisions of Section 8762 of the California Professional Land Surveyor’s Act. “This representation includes the act of causing a boundary or property line to be accepted or recognized, to prove or demonstrate the location of the boundary or property line, the setting, resetting, or replacement of a corner, references or witness monuments or the reference of a boundary or property line by showing dimensional ties to the line in relation to physical features or monuments located on the ground.” California Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. January 3, 2007

Subdivision – Tentative /Final Map:

A Tentative Tract Map and thereafter a Final Map is required to subdivide a property into five or more parcels, five or more condominiums, community apartment project with five or more parcels, or a stock cooperative with five or more dwellings.

A Tentative map shows the design and improvement of a proposed subdivision of land, and the existing conditions in and around it, and need not be based upon an accurate or detailed final survey of the property. A final subdivision map encompasses the details and requirements imposed on the tentative map and is generally prepared when the tentative map is both approved by the locality, and the requirements imposed on the developer.

The final map contains detailed information and must comply with precise engineering and survey standards and must be filed before the expiration of the tentative map. In addition to meeting the requirements of the locality, the Final Map must also comply with the Subdivision Map Act under the supervision/direction of a Licensed Land Surveyor or Registered Civil Engineer.

Parcel Map:

Whenever a tentative or final tract map is not required by the Subdivision Map Act, a tentative parcel map shall be filed and recorded with the County. Parcels Map rather than Subdivision Maps will generally be permitted when: 1) parcels contain less than five cases, abuts a public street, and no dedications or improvements are required; 2) parcels of twenty acres or more with approved access; 3) land zoned industrial or commercial with approved access to public street; 4) parcels of not less than forty acres; or 5) environmental subdivisions which met the Governmental Code for a division for biotic and wildlife purposes.

Certificate of Compliance:

A legal document that certifies that a parcel of land complies with the Subdivision Map Act and local ordinances, as being legally created within the county in which the property is located. If the locality determines that the property was created in violation of either the Subdivision Map Act or local ordinance, a Conditional Certificate of Compliance will be issued. Conditions will be imposed which would have applied to the subdivision of property at the time the applicant purchased or acquired the property. However, if the applicant was the owner at the time of violation then the City will impose any conditions, which would apply to a current subdivision.

If the property is found to comply with applicable codes, a Certificate of Compliance will be recorded with the County Recorder that identifies the property and states that the division complies with the applicable State and County Codes.

Note:

Legal parcels may be defined by: 1) Final Map; 2) Record of Survey approved by the Board of Supervisors, City Council and/or Planning Commission; 3) Parcel Map or Certificate of Compliance recorded in lieu of a Parcel Map; 4) recorded Certificate of Compliance; 5) approved Division of Land Plat; 6) Lot legalization Plat; 7) approved Boundary Adjustment Plat; 8) Grant Deed or other bona fide conveyance document recorded before March 4, 1972; or 9) a parcel which is completely surrounded by lots already determined to have been legally created.

  • Prior to March 4, 1972, it was legal to subdivide and convey property by executing a grant deed. After that date, a property owner was required to process a Tract map or Parcel Map to subdivide their property. If the property was subdivided by deed, after March 4, 1972, it was considered a violation, and a Certificate of Compliance would be necessary. 

Please see our other related articles

Holding Title to Property
How Zoning Codes Effect Churches
Church Officer and Director Liability
Incorrect Deeds

Disclaimer: Every situation is different and particular facts may vary thereby changing or altering a possible course of action or conclusion. The information contained herein is intended to be general in nature as laws vary between federal, state, counties, and municipalities and therefore may not apply to any given matter. This information is not intended to be legal advice or relied upon as a legal opinion, course of action, accounting, tax or other professional service. You should consult the proper legal or professional advisor knowledgeable in the area that pertains to your particular situation.

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