What is A Legal Lot and Why is It Important?


Imagine purchasing the lot of your dreams, with beautiful views, in the location you’ve always wanted, and then finding out that you are not allowed to build on it because it’s not a legal lot! 

This kind of scenario illustrates why it is so important to verify the legality of a lot before purchasing land or putting a parcel on the market. In this article, we’ll explain what we mean by “a legal lot” and how you can verify a given parcel’s legality.

What Does It Mean For a Lot to Be Legal?

When we say that a lot is legal, this means that it meets certain criteria under state and local law and therefore is recognized as an individual parcel. A lot must be legal in order to obtain a permit for building, grading, or subdividing. Technically, in California a legal parcel is any parcel which meets one of the following criteria (source):

  1. A lot shown on a Final Map.  (Major Subdivision Map)
  2. A lot or parcel shown on a Record of Survey approved by the Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission.
  3. A parcel shown on a Parcel Map or Certificate of Compliance recorded in lieu of a Parcel Map.
  4. A recorded Certificate of Compliance.
  5. A parcel shown on an approved Division of Land Plat.
  6. A parcel shown on a Lot legalization Plat used as evidence of legal parcel prior to a Certificate of Compliance.
  7. A parcel shown on an approved Boundary Adjustment Plat.
  8. A parcel described in a Grant Deed or other bona fide conveyance document recorded prior to February 1, 1972. The deed/document does not have to be in the name of the present owner. However, it must describe the perimeter boundaries only of the subject property and no other contiguous property. The legal description and County Recorder’s information must be legible to County staff.  The Deed need not be an original or certified copy.
  9. A parcel which is completely surrounded by lots already determined to have been legally created.

How Do I Determine if a Given Lot is Legal?

In general, to prove that a lot is legal, you’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Compliance from your local jurisdiction. The application procedure involves the analysis of historical deeds, maps and other documents in the context of historically relevant regulations pertaining to lot creation. You can read more about this process within Santa Cruz County here

To save time, a straightforward way to determine a lot’s legality is to hire a land use planner.

If you’d like to explore your lot’s legal status on your own, we suggest visiting your local planning department and inquiring about the process in that jurisdiction.  

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