Let’s say you’ve decided that buying some land, or a lot sounds like a good idea. You begin searching the internet websites, like Landwatch, Zillow, Craigslist, etc. as most people do and you run across one or more terms common to this type of real estate that you don’t fully understand. Terms like lot line, setback, easement or zoning. Or maybe after buying a property you’ve encountered them on a plat or survey. These are all important terms that we will attempt to explain.
Lot, Lot Line, Setback
A Lot is a recognized subdivision of property with a written legal description that addresses permissions or constraints upon its development. You may recognize that word, “subdivision.” When someone buys a large parcel of land and subdivides it into smaller parcels or lots that are approved by the county or city it becomes a subdivision, often with a catchy name for marketing purposes.
Lots can be influenced by a variety of factors that include lot splits, agreements, court rulings, etc. A lot line is the boundary (perimeter) line of a lot or parcel of land. Lot lines or property lines are typically lines plotted on a map, plat or survey.
Lot and Parcel are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. In simplest language, a Parcel is a quantity of land identified for taxation purposes, while a Lot is a recognized subdivision of property with a written legal description that addresses permissions or constraints upon its development. This written legal description appears on the deed describing what you own.
A Setback is a distance from a curb, property line, or structure within which building is prohibited. Setbacks are building restrictions imposed on property owners. Local governments create setbacks through ordinances and Building Codes, usually for reasons of public policy such as safety, privacy, and environmental protection.
An Easement gives someone the right to use a section of land for a specific purpose even though they are not the owner of that land. Typically this could be for an access way like a road or an easement for drainage or utilities. You can build under or over an easement if the work will not have a material interference with the easement.
When someone is granted an easement, they are granted the legal right to use the property, but the legal title to the land itself remains with the owner of the land. Most commonly, easements are granted to utility companies to run power lines and cable lines, or for roads or drainage. Easements are typically laid out on the subdivision maps to indicate where future improvements will go.
If you want to know where any utility easements are located on your property, call the utility company. Or you can go to the county land records office or online or even city hall and ask a clerk to show you a map of the easement locations. A survey of the property will also show the location of any easements.
Easements are part and parcel of the land they affect. They don’t change when the property changes hands. Subsequent owners are obliged to let whoever owns the easement use the property, so anyone buying land to build something on should be sure to find out exactly what easements a property is subject to before finalizing the purchase.
Land use involves the regulation of the use and development of real estate such as land. The most common form of land-use regulation is zoning. Zoning is a restriction on the way that land can be used. These laws are a tool that most cities use to govern “uses” (e.g. residential, commercial, or industrial), the size of buildings, and how buildings relate to their surroundings, including other buildings, open spaces, and the street.
Zoning laws typically specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction.
Zoning symbols vary among communities. An R2 zoning in one community is not necessarily the same as an R2 in another community. Frequently, communities use letters of the alphabet as code abbreviations to identify the use allowed in a physical geographic area, such as A for agricultural (or airport or apartments), R for residential, C for commercial, I or M (industrial or manufacturing) and P for park or parking lots. These symbols are usually followed by a number to specify the level of use; for example, the common generalizations are R1 for a single-family home, R2 for two-dwelling units, R3 for a apartment complexes, and so forth.
The zoning ordinance is a law with penalties and consequence for not following it
A master plan includes analysis, recommendations, and proposals for a site’s population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities, and land use. It is based on public input, surveys, planning initiatives, existing development, physical characteristics, and social and economic conditions.
Like zoning ordinances, restrictive covenants (sometimes referred to as CC&R’s) are also a land-use restriction that creates a general plan for development. However, whereas private owners create restrictive covenants, the local government imposes zoning ordinances.
Another difference is that zoning ordinances are regulations recorded as local laws “on the books,” whereas covenants are recorded in private deeds, either as deed restrictions or as neighborhood compacts between private parties. Because covenants are voluntary, they may be more restrictive than zoning ordinances.
All of these terms above also affect the Value of a plot of land. The biggest determinant of value of course is always location but the details mentioned here create constraints as to what can be done with a particular parcel and also, what someone else can do with that parcel as well.
And remember, these constraints all stay with the land, just like property taxes, liens, etc., no matter who owns it.