Splitting a land parcel essentially involves subdividing a larger piece of property into smaller chunks. This process can have a number of advantages for the landowner. Some of the reasons property owners decided to divide their land are:

  • Smaller pieces of property can be developed and sold for more than a larger land parcel.
  • Smaller properties increase the chance of sale as the buyer is at less risk and incurs less overall cost.
  • Landowners can build additional houses for other family members (this is not always allowed on a single larger piece of land).
  • Selling subdivided land can reduce mortgage costs for the landowner.
  • Landowners can free up assets for use on other projects.
  • Subdividing can establish properties for future inheritance.

But splitting a land parcel is not simply a matter of drawing outlines on a map. If you’re considering subdividing, you’ll need to know that there are regulations. These regulations are at both state and local levels and govern the subdivision of land in California.

How to Approach Land Division in California

Primary Step

There are two basic ways to subdivide property in California:

  • by a parcel map that includes four or fewer divisions,
  • by a tract map that has five or more divisions.

The parcel map is the easier of the two processes and is usually undertaken for personal reasons.  such reasons may be building an additional family house or divisions for inheritance. The tract map process is more involved and is often a commercial undertaking.

Whether you are considering developing the subdivided pieces or not, their division is subject to the California law (refer to CA Government Code §§ 66410 et. seq. and CA Business and Professions Code §§ 11000 – 11200.). What these codes largely do is delegate authority to local governments. Therefore, you are likely to find greater restrictions on subdivisions at that level.

If you are considering subdividing your property for resale, then you should begin by researching whether there is a market for lot purchases in your area. Contacting a qualified home builder or real estate agent familiar with the area is a good starting place to discover the nature of your local market.

Next Step

The next step, regardless of the purpose of subdivision, is to review not only state laws but also county and city regulations on subdivisions. You also need to review your own contract for the property to ascertain if its purchase was under any restrictions. Look for any deed restrictions, conditions, covenants, restrictions, or even clauses in your Deed of Trust if your land is mortgaged. Lending agencies may require full payment of the existing mortgage before you can subdivide your land.

For those considering development, counties will usually have specific requirements. They include minimum lot sizes/dimensions, proof that sites are buildable locations, and evidence that lots meet setback requirements. There will also be regulations concerning vehicle access and utility right of way. If you are pursuing the tract map of five or more properties, you will also have to meet additional regulations. These are the regulations that the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) has set forth.

Final Step

For some divisions, you may need, and in the case of commercial development will need, to hire a surveyor to develop land plats and to enlist the services of an engineer. You will also need an experienced land attorney to draw up documentation.

Once you have assured that your division process meets all regulations and that you have acquired all necessary mapping and documentation, you can put in your application to the county for approval. This process may take a few months to over a year, depending on the nature of your application.


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Ivan Young is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with Checkworks, a retailer for personal and business checks.