Texas property owners enjoy protections and homesteading guarantees that aren't available to residents of most other states. The state has a strong, proud history of respect for private property rights and provides owners of residential and commercial property the tools that they need to be prosperous and safe. To ensure that its guarantee of personal property rights remains unshaken, Texas maintains a complex but easy-to-understand system of surveying regulations. These are often described as "platting laws."
A Brief Review of Platting
According to the city of Laredo's planning department, "a plat is a survey of land which identifies the boundaries of the property and any easements, flood zones, roadways and access rights-of-way." While an unplatted property can be defined and described in a similar manner, a plat provides for a level of detail that's lacking in such parcels. Crucially, an unplatted property can't be subdivided. Once a property has been platted, any subsequent subdivisions are treated as plats as well.
Recognizing a Platted Parcel
While the Texas Attorney General's office keeps careful track of state and local land ordinances as well as local platting practices, there's no single platting system that applies to landowners in every corner of the state. As such, property owners and prospective buyers may be confused as to whether a given parcel has ever been platted. Depending on whether the parcel lies within or without an incorporated municipality, curious parties should check with city or county authorities to find the appropriate plat maps.
However, it's possible to make generalizations about a property's plat status. If a title is assigned a lot number, it almost certainly attaches to a platted property. By contrast, a title that uses the old-fashion metes and bounds system probably attaches to an unplatted property. Likewise, recently created properties that consist of a full or subdivided lot as well as a portion of an adjacent lot probably aren't platted. The following sections describe these issues in greater detail.
Texas's land laws outline several acceptable means by which cities may organize platted properties. These include:
- Subchapter A of Chapter 212: This applies to subdivided parcels of properties that lie entirely within city limits. Each parcel must be smaller than five acres and comply fully with all local ordinances.
- LGC § 212.0105 and 212.0106: These apply to subdivided residential lots in border cities or economically distressed areas and ensure adequate provision of sewage, water, electricity and other services.
Counties are bound by similar laws, including:
- Model Subdivision Rules of TWDB (31 TAC Chapter 364): These rules are similar to those outlined in LGC § 212.0105 and 212.0106.
- Subchapter A of Chapter 232: These rules apply to subdivided commercial lots in border counties or economically distressed areas. They ensure that multiple owners of subdivided parcels provide adequate access and services for each plot. They don't apply to groups of subdivided properties with a single owner.
It's important to note that Model Subdivision Rules of TWDB (31 TAC Chapter 364) can simultaneously apply to land within or without city limits. As such, this framework is popular with developers who wish to build on unincorporated county land that may be annexed by a nearby city at a later date.
Considerations During Subdivision: Surveying, Zoning and Other Issues
Before a property can be subdivided, it must be platted. Landowners who wish to subdivide a parcel should contact a licensed land surveyor to map it and a trained engineer to identify the improvements that must be made before residential or commercial construction can commence. Additionally, landowners must be cognizant of zoning regulations that could affect the use of their properties. These regulations vary locally, but common iterations include "agricultural use," "single family residential use," "multi-family use," "heavy manufacturing use" and so forth. Landowners and developers must have thorough knowledge of the zoning laws that pertain to their properties before building or making improvements.
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