If you’re looking for a way to transfer land between adjacent (but separate) lots, then it’s time to learn about lot line adjustment.
This is also known as a boundary line adjustment.
This process allows a minor relocation of property boundaries or merging of lots.
In this blog, we’ll explain more about what a lot line adjustment is, how it works, and why you may want to use it.
Let’s get started.
1. What is a lot line adjustment?
A lot line adjustment is an extensive process that involves altering the property lines of existing parcels of land.
The primary aim is to change the existing legal property lines.
However, the lot line adjustment itself can also serve several other purposes including:
Merging up to 4 adjoining parcels into one single parcel (depending on the jurisdiction’s rules)
Allow the shapes of up to 4 parcels to be reconfigured (depending on the jurisdiction’s rules)
With this process, it’s possible to both lessen the number of parcels or keep the number the same while altering the boundaries.
The only thing you can’t use this process for is increasing the number of parcels you have.
So, if you have four parcels, you can’t suddenly turn them into eight parcels.
You would need to subdivide the lots to do this.
2. How do I apply for a lot line adjustment?
There are several requirements for lot line adjustments that you will need to fulfill when applying.
Some of these will depend on the state and city where you live, so make sure you check your jurisdiction’s rules and regulations.
You’ll be able to obtain a lot line adjustment application at the planning department for the county that you reside in.
The simplest route to obtaining it is going to your planning department’s website and downloading it.
The application itself is usually relatively easy to fill out, but both the legal descriptions and illustrations of the parcels will need to be completed and submitted on your behalf by a registered civil engineer or licensed land surveyor.
You will also need to submit a number of other documents, including, but not limited to, the following:
An application form
A copy of a preliminary title report, which must be less than 90 days old
Illustrations that display the current parcel configuration and the new parcel configuration
A legal description of every newly configured lot
A preliminary review fee
The planning department will then review the application and, hopefully, approve it by issuing a notice of decision.
This approval may come with certain conditions that need to be met prior to finalizing the adjustment.
It’s important to note that planning approval of a proposed lot line adjustment does not create the new boundary lines.
A lot line adjustment is essentially one parcel conveying a portion of its land to another (effectively making one lot a bit bigger and another a bit smaller after the adjustment).
Thus, a deed conveying a portion of one property to another must be recorded in order for the lot line adjustment to be codified.
The county may also require that you record a survey of the new properties.
Once the deed is recorded, and all conditions are met, the county will then issue a certificate of compliance.
3. What activities require a lot line adjustment?
There are many situations where a lot line adjustment may be useful.
Perhaps you are looking to build on the lot and need to adjust the boundaries of your property in order to meet setback requirements or create a better design.
Alternatively, you may need an adjustment in order to improve access to your lot.
Or perhaps you own two adjacent lots and you want to combine them.
Each case is unique!
4. What are the costs?
Before moving forward with lot line adjustment, you’ll need to understand the costs associated with the process.
$300-$500: Fee for a registered civil engineer or licensed land surveyor to prepare illustrations that display the current configurations and boundary lines of the lot in question
$1,000: Preliminary fee which will be required when you file your application (depending on the jurisdiction)
5. What’s the typical timeline for processing?
It normally takes around 90 days for a decision on a lot line adjustment.
But this can vary depending on the specific scenario.
For example, if a discretionary action or zoning variance is required along with the lot line adjustment, then the application processing times can be much longer since public hearings may be required.
6. How do lot line adjustments work?
Lot line adjustments can be tricky.
Often, they’re impacted by zoning regulations that are specific to your city or county.
For example, if you live in an urban setting where you and your neighbor both own 2,000-square foot lots, you may think it’s fine for him to sell you 500 square feet of his lot.
His would then be 1,500-square feet and yours would be 2,500-square feet.
If both parties are happy, there’s no issue, right?
Some zoning regulations in certain jurisdictions state that there are minimum lot sizes.
If the minimum lot size in your jurisdiction was 1,750, then your neighbor would only be able to sell your 250 square feet.
Additionally, zoning requirements often regulate side yard setbacks, front and back yard setbacks, and the size of your home.
Furthermore, you may find that your municipality requires that you obtain the approval of different departments before you adjust the lot line.
Departments that you may need to involve include the local water department, zoning department, building department, school board, county board, waste management board, village board, and more.
Also, keep in mind that the lot line adjustment must also comply with the land use provisions laid out in the city or county’s general plan.
7. What are the tax implications of the lot line adjustment?
If your lot line adjustment creates a change in the acreage of any particular lot, then your municipality should recognize this change in its assessment for tax purposes.
Towns are responsible for continually updating their tax maps to indicate ownership and parcel size changes.
This way, maps accurately represent the boundaries of each parcel.
If lot line adjustments have created changes in the acreage of certain parcels, then new maps should indicate it, and owners should be taxed accordingly.
The assessors should also obtain copies of the recorded deed(s), which describe the new boundaries and acreage in addition to proof of planning board approval.
Sometimes, parties may obtain approval from the planning board, but never record new deeds codifying the new boundary lines.
If this occurs, then the parties will continue to be taxed based on the acreage that is actually owned despite the existence of an approved plan for a changed boundary line.
8. What’s the difference between a boundary line adjustment and a boundary line agreement?
Boundary line adjustment is just another name for lot line adjustment.
But what’s the difference between that and a boundary line agreement?
In both cases, the boundary line between two adjacent property owners is being changed in some way.
However, the key differences are jurisdiction and purpose.
A boundary line adjustment (lot line adjustment) is sought if owners agree over the line and merely wish to exchange the land.
While there is mutual understanding, the jurisdiction to change this still resides with the local planning authority.
There is still an application and review period, and they have the ultimate decision-making power.
But because it is the planning department who has authority, the boundary line adjustment is an administrative action.
A boundary line agreement, on the other hand, is judicial action.
In this case, the agreement gives the property owners the ability to resolve an ownership conflict resulting from poorly written deeds, encroachments, etc.
For example, say your neighbor is selling their land and gets a survey done.
This survey calls into question ownership over the land where you have built a fence.
To keep this case out of court, you could resolve the dispute among yourselves with an agreement.
In this case, either you or your neighbor would agree to relinquish control of the land in question, and the agreement would then clarify which property the fence belongs to.
The advantage here is that, once you and your neighbor come to an agreement, you may be able to complete the process without the review of the local planning department.
This is often convenient because issues that might make the approval of a lot line adjustment application problematic or prolonged may not need to be addressed.
9. What happens if a boundary dispute cannot be resolved?
To return to our example above, let’s say you cannot come to an agreement with your neighbor as to whether your fence falls inside or outside of your property’s boundary lines.
Should the dispute truly center on where the property boundary lies, you can first try to resolve the issue by jointly selecting a surveyor whose survey will determine the agreed-upon boundary line.
If this does not work, the next step would be mediation.
In a worst-case scenario, you can file a civil lawsuit against the other owner and let the court establish where the true boundary should run.
However, it’s important to note that, in certain states, simply clarifying the location of the boundary line may not resolve ownership over a contested portion of land.
In many instances, a quiet title action, adverse possession claim or other action will need to be initiated to clearly delineate ownership.
Be sure that you consult with a local real estate attorney to determine what the best course of action is for your situation.
The lot line agreement process largely depends on your local regulations.
Our guide helps lay out the larger points of what you need to know if you’re going through the process.
However, it’s crucial that you start researching your local planning department and what they require.
This step will reveal critical details that pertain to your specific situation.
Did we miss anything?
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.
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