Plats and Surveys. What do these words mean? If you’ve recently purchased or acquired a tract of land and plan on dividing it, adding to it, or otherwise developing it, you will come across the phrase “property plat.” A “plat” is a plan or a map of a plot of land, especially used in construction site mapping. A plat map includes a description of the land and everything on it, including roads, boundaries, and real property. Learning about property plats can help you understand your rights as a landowner, and begin the development process within the legal boundaries of your county code.

Understanding Property Plats
Property plats are necessary during the land development process – particularly with the subdivision of a tract of land. Platting is a complex process that many lawyers, real estate developers, and even government officials still struggle with. The problem lies in the origin of platting laws. Plats are based in public law, not contract law. Subdivision platting laws are based on governmental legal concepts of “police power,” or the right of the government to make laws necessary to protect the safety, welfare, and health of the public.

While the average person will likely not have to deal directly with platting, it’s important for anyone who wishes to purchase, sell, or develop a lot to understand this concept. Plats are important because they give an accurate description of a section of land as well as the people, things, and access ways on the tract. Plats ensure property owners don’t trespass on another’s property, land for public use remains public, lots comply with zoning rules and restrictions, and all property owners have access to utilities. Plats also control the growth of cities.

Local governments require plats to keep track of all residential and commercial properties, their subdivisions, and the development of tracts of land. Without the platting system, there would be no legal documentation of the development of a property – nor would there be laws holding property owners liable for what they do to their land and that of adjacent tracts. Plats may seem like tedious red tape, but they are necessary to preserve the law and order of lands.

When Do You Need a Land Survey Plat?
Any time you plan to subdivide a property outside the limits of a municipality into two or more parts, you must submit a subdivision plat to the correct city or county official, unless you meet an exception in your local subdivision ordinance. This applies whether you plan to divide the land into building lots, a subdivision, or an addition. A tract of land is only subject to platting requirements if the division is also to lay out parks, squares, alleys, streets, or other parts intended to be dedicated to public use or the use of other owners adjacent to the land.

Texas has strict platting laws enforced on every development or division of land. Your county may require a filed plat for new plumbing or HVAC installation, as well as structural modifications. In Texas, platting requirements fall under local government code 212.004. This code states that a “division of a tract” includes those made using a metes and bounds description in a deed of conveyance, a contract for a deed or a contract of sale, or any other method.

Exceptions include a division of land into parts greater than five acres, where each portion has access and no public improvement, as well as local county and city exceptions. Platting requirements will change depending on your city. For example, Dallas has particularly specific platting rules. Dallas requires a property plat for the following actions:

Subdividing land
Combining tracts of land
Creating a building site
Developing a planned district
Adding vacant or abandoned property to a building site
Amending or correcting errors in a previous plat
Establishing a shared access development

You do not need a plat if you are dividing property for transfer or ownership – as long as the property is described using metes and bounds. However, this exception only lasts until someone requests a building permit for the property. Reach out to your county clerk’s office for an exact list of platting requirements and exemptions in your area.

What Must a Property Plat Include?
When you file a property plat with your city or county, you must follow certain rules for it to be properly recorded. First, you must describe the subdivision by metes and bounds. This is a system for describing land and real properties that uses physical features of the land’s geography, as well as distances and directions, to describe the boundaries of a piece of land.

Metes refer to a boundary defined by the measurement of a straight run. One specifies a mete by a distance between terminal points, as well as a direction or orientation. Bounds are a more general boundary description. For example, describing a body of water, a stone wall, or an adjoining road are all bounds. A lawyer can write the metes and bounds description of your land if necessary.

The plat must also locate the subdivision with respect to a corner of the original survey, and state the dimensions of the subdivision and of each part of the tract intended for public use. This may include parks, alleys, or streets. The owner of the tract, or the owner’s agent, must acknowledge the plat; a process much like that of the acknowledgement of deeds. You must file and record the plat with the county clerk in the county where the tract of land is located.

How to Obtain a Property Plat
Plat maps must be as accurate as possible. To create a plat map, one invests in a plat survey. A plat surveyor will study the land in question and describe it in prose, using plain words to recreate the area. Plat surveys are especially useful when describing large tracts of land, where an accurate estimate of boundaries would be too difficult to achieve. Landowners can hire a surveyor to complete the plat survey, compare measurements to the original property deed, and calculate the actual bounds of the property.

After a plat survey, the owner of the land may find that the tract is actually larger or smaller than it is listed in other legal documents. Your property may already have a plat map on file in your county. Conduct an online public records search for plats, and discover the actual boundaries of your piece of property. Plats can open your eyes to parts of your property you didn’t realize you owned, and help you comply with county codes during subdivision or construction projects. Plats and Surveys.