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Subdividing Property — 56 Comments

  1. if an acre of land was surveyed off from a large parcel of land yet was never recorded at the deeds office for 26 years and the land has passed ownership twice… is the 26 year old survey legal since it was never recorded for 26 years?

    • A survey is ALWAYS legal (provided the surveyor didn’t have their license revoked regarding that specific survey). I don’t think this is what you are asking, though.
      As for recording it, there is a high likelihood that the old survey will not conform to current recording standards. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t have the required certifications and other elements that are now needed that may not have been needed at the time of the survey. If the surveyor is still alive and working, they could update the map to conform to said standards. More than likely, they would require resurveying the property.

      On to the actual land. I am assuming that the “pass(ing) ownership” included a description of the land from the survey so that you are talking about the transfer of the subdivided piece and not that of the parent tract. This means that the subdivision was done by deed and that the survey is not “needed” to be recorded. There may be information on that survey plat that would be of benefit and has some legal standings (if the deed refers to it) should there be an issue. I am not too certain that any register of deeds I know would actually record a map like that – unless it is over 5 acres and again, the surveyor is in good standing.

  2. My father, which passed, has 5 acres I’m probably getting. Is it possible to put three dwellings on that property?

  3. I want to buy 1 acre which is on a 2 acres and a home the 1 acre I want needs to be cut off of the 2 acres. I’m not planning on building on it or living on it it does have a barn on it I’m wanting it for my horse. So can it be done in Tennessee with out being in a subdivision

    • If it is less than 5 acres, you must have it able to sustain a residence. While you are not planning on it, once the land is “created,” you can sell it, and the next person may try.

    • Great information and replies to comments. Do you have to own the property outright to divided? I currently have a mortgage on my house and 3 acres and would like to split it in have in the near future to build a small house for my mother.

      • You can make a plat and subdivide as long as you have a deed to the property. However, if you intend on building/selling one of the lots, you will likely need to get a release from the mortgage company. Essentially, we can create as many parcels as you want, but the mortgage holder will have a lien against the entirety of the land, not just the “primary” lot with the house they originally loaned against.

  4. I just purchased an R8 property with two parcels of land included. However, I would like to separate the parcels by redrawing the parcel line. Is this allowed? And what all is needed if so?

    • If you have existing parcels, you don’t necessarily need to do anything to “separate” them. However, if you are wanting to move the lines, you will likely be subject to planning approval.

  5. This Tennessee law does not protect the public in a few counties with low populations. (Pickett). There is not any zoning or planning commission. The subdivision was not required to be filed. I am currently in a lawsuit where the owner / contractor of the subdivision has closed a road out of spite, 8 years from the creation of the subdivision. The road is written on all the deeds except those lots created before the subdivision was created. I was able to keep the road open for now, but the trial is in early June, 5 years after filing suit. I expect to win, but the road to get there is $$$$$.

    • Like most Tennessee laws, there are exceptions. I assume you have an attorney. If not, I highly recommend NOT trying to do this pro se. And yes, there may be a clear answer, but because of the way the US system is, a person has to go through the courts for nearly any decision.

  6. Is there a minimum amount 9f land that is required to build a house in Blount County?
    I’m new to the area and find it very confusing.

  7. Hi- great information. I own a corner lot in a historical neighborhood in MEM ( Cent G). The lot has a “quarters” that is open on one side to the street, has its own address ( think of a corner lot-main house on front street, quarters has door and address on the side street), already own elect and sewer accounts with MLGW and USPS, no connection to the main house. I want to carve it off to sell as a separate house, by subdividing the lot and making some cosmetic improvements. Who would i need to consult to help me get a plan/ and approvals to do this? Thank you!

    • My best advise it to contact the local planning office and see if it is feasible. You may have to do a Planned Unit Development or Condo to accomplish what you are looking at.

  8. We have family in Oak Ridge, Tennessee who owns 3 areas with a lovely home on it. We want to buy 1/3 area for a small home to be lived in part of the year. There is no need for a road just a drive way as it is close to the road. Will we be able to pull utilities (sewer, etc) from the road? And when speaking of sub-dividing or moving boundary lines where do I look to get an estimate on the cost to do that, or do know approximately?

    • Be advised that ALL properties (with a few exceptions) must physically touch a municipality-approved road (public or private). Most areas also require that this be a minimum of 50′ wide.
      As for the cost of division, it is on a case-by-case basis. Please go to http://www.tnlds.com/request and we can get you a quote and time frame.

  9. Hello. Meigs County — A newly drawn survey of acreage divided into 20, 5+ ac parcels shows a 60 ft. access/utility easement from a state road through the acreage, with lots on each side. The survey does not show ownership of the easement – it’s simply not labeled with an owner (as if it was a county road, for example). So exactly who owns the easement..? Thanks.

    • If there is not a dedication to a municipality (or HOA or or or), then the landowner who developed it (or their heirs) would likely retain ownership of any lands not specifically deeded. This is something that would need a title search done and a title opinion prepared by an attorney.

      • Thank you. I assumed the developer/owner would still own it. I recently purchased one of the lots on the easement and found it odd none of the property owners own it according to the survey and deed. I’m waiting for the Town of Decatur to determine if they’ll assign addresses off the easement or off the municipal road. All the lots touch a municipal road but the 911 director who assigns addresses claims the easement MUST first be labeled before addresses can be assigned – which makes little sense to me – and I can’t get a response/reason from town officials. And I can’t get a building permit without an address. Thanks for your help.

        • Actually, this easement is quite common in older developments. Pre-planning, many were made but no one thought about actually dedicating the right of way to the county. It was just assumed…

          Federal e911 standards (at least in 1998 when I helped set up a County GIS) mandated that any road serving 4 or more residences must be named. Many have taken this to mean that to name a road, it must be “up to community standards”. This may or may not be the case with what you are talking about. But, given that it sounds like your lot is accessed via an easement (probably to be a road – but never happened) and exists, then your address would likely be from the Actual road and not the easement. The problem is that 911 is trying to ensure EMS can get to the right place and if there is a stack of addresses with a single “drive”, then this may not be possible. Hard to find someone having a heart attack when all your address can get to is the drive intersection.

          • Thanks. The land was divided earlier this year. Oddly, the sellers, realtor, nor surveyor realized the land was inside town limits – I happened to discover it a few days after my contract. Sadly, it’s been somewhat of a circus trying to get answers from SEDEV, town planning, and aldermen. Two days ago I was told the problem may be a result of everyone referencing a preliminary survey, rather than the final survey. I explained I’d filed the survey with the deeds clerk myself weeks ago, and that the assessor also has a copy.. but no one else had it. I’d think the surveyor would have to file it but he didn’t. I’ll let you k ow what happens next.

  10. Hello, we have 46 acres in A1 zoning with a private drive from a public road. If we wanted to subdivide in to 3-4 lots, and all of the land would have access to (touch) a public road, but the entrance would be steep in some places, can we have the private drive deeded as an easement for access and would this be sufficient to satisfy the municipality-approved road requirement?

    • That is very municipality specific. Some areas will allow you to use an easement as the primary access. Some require that the road frontage be “reasonably accessible.” It may be possible, depending on the condition of the drive you speak, to have to dedicated as a private road. This again, will be at the discression of the local planning office and highway department. It may be worth a trip to planning to talk to them about what you can and cannot do.

  11. I live in a subdivision where I was told there would be no more houses built, there is no hoa but there are deed restrictions & one of them being you cannot subdivide your property but the neighbor across the street has split his lot & is building a new house do I have a legal avenue to halt the build ? (Rutherford co.)

    • This is a legal question, but as I understand it, in the absence of an HOA, any landowner within the development may sue any other landowner to try to enforce the restrictions and covenants. I do not know what remedy you would receive if you do “win.” Again, that’s a legal question and I defer to an attorney for that.

  12. We’re building in Marshal Co. And want to subdivide the small house/ reduce it’s lot to 1-2 acres from 10 and add the acreage to the adjoining 17. Question: we want to divide with an easement for it’s septic field that sits halfway down the lot so we can sell it with a smaller lot. Is there any literature specific to subdivision with septic? I have not found anything specific. I do know there are plenty of houses in Tennessee with septic on neighbors lots. Any knowledge is appreciated & thanks!

    • This will fall to your local (or the State if they don’t have a local Dept. of Environmental Health) Health Department. I, too, have seen systems be approved on adjoining land and encumbered with an easement. I have also seen subdivisions NOT get approval for the same reason. I am not certain there are state-specific guidelines on that. It may fall county to county.

      My suggestion is to reach out to either the local or state office and ask.

  13. We have purchased a 5 acre lot. Most of the lot and the street frontage is in Stewart County. The rear corner of the lot lies in Houston County. Can I get utilities (water) from either county? Are there any other issues/complications with all 5 acres not being in the same county? Thank you!

    • That is going to be a Utility District question. I have also seen instances where the county with the road frontage “gets” to govern the lot. But I have also seen instances where the deeds are recorded in both counties and buildings/etc. are controlled by the county they are physically located in.

      Just know that Utility Districts often have geographic boundaries set in their formation. They may not have a legal ability to provide you with water, even if you are only 2 feet from their water main.

  14. Update on Decatur in Meigs County. Developer threatened to sue the town for blocking issuance of 911 addresses and building permits. 911 addresses finally issued last week.. building permits on the way. However, the town has recently proposed an ordinance prohibiting building off easements and private roads unless they meet town standards – curbs, pavement, etc.. all of this just because a car drove off the gravel and got stuck in the mud on an easement.

  15. I was told that is the tract you are subdividing is greater than 5 acres that you do not have to go to the planning commission for approval. I’m in the City of Charlotte, Dickson Co. Is that true?

    • T.C.A. §§ 13-3-401 and 13-4-301 define a subdivision as: Dividing any tract or parcel into two or more lots, site, or other divisions requiring new street or utility construction; or. Any division less than five acres for sale of building development.

      If all properties will be (in the end) 5 acres or more AND have road frontage (no specific amount according to the law, but this is typically judged to be a minimum of 25′) AND do not require you to construct some utility (this is not simply a lateral line or tie to electric), then it is NOT within the purview of the Regional Planning Commission. This is an ongoing fight in may regions, good luck!

  16. If we have just over an acre of land with two mobile homes on the land both with their own septic water and electric can we have the land split into two deeds instead one land deed.

    • There are too many factors to tell you one way or the other. The first is your zoning. This will determine the minimum lot size. You also have an issue with road frontage. All lots must have direct access to a municipality-approved (public or private) road. Not a drive, a road.

      There are many, many more factors. You would need to talk to planning in your region to determine if what you are trying to accomplish can even be done there before you bother hiring a surveyor to do any work.

  17. I am looking at a property that is 50 acres and has access to the road of 62 feet. I was thinking of dividing off a few 5 to 10 acre pieces and keeping the remainder for myself. However, I read in your information that all lots generally require public road access of about 50 feet each. I suppose an actual public road could be built and then split off driveways, however that sounds expensive and more involved than I want. Do I have this correct? Thanks

    • The State does not specify how much road frontage a parcel must have that is NOT a subdivision (≥ 5 acres). It has become relatively accepted among surveyors (at least around here) that 25′ is the minimum, but this is just us with usability. Knox County, which is not in their purview, has declared it 25′.
      But yes, if you want to have many lots, you must construct a road to meet county/city standards. It may be able to remain private, but it has to meet the guidelines that control grade, surface material and width, and other factors.
      Back in 2005ish, I had checked on the cost of road construction with a local company. At that time, they said it was about $200 per linear foot to build a new road (no retaining walls, no rock issues, just basic construction). I have no idea what the cost would be today.

  18. My daughter in Maury co. Has 10 acres and a house on it, she wants us to build a house on it so we can be close to her I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered could point me to the proper people I should talk to

  19. Hey Tim I am under contract on 18 acre piece of land that I would like split it into 3, 6 acre lots it has a crazy amount of road frontage each lot has over 50 feet of road frontage. To split something like that any ball park on what it would cost to subdivde something like that?

  20. I had a general question about the 5 acre rule in tennesse/carter county  to avoid being designated as a Mountain Subdivision.
    When calculating the lot size can the right of way/easement/setback  area be included in the total lot size to achieve the 5 acres.

    • The State of Tennessee, when they passed the legislation that empowered planning regions, chose to limit their authority to those properties of less than 5 acres. There are some limitations, like it has to be on a road and cannot require the installation of utilities (service lines do not count). Some areas have chosen to exert their control, like Knox County. The definition of “subdivision” where this “rule” comes from does not explicitly state how much road frontage is required nor does it explicitly state that this “road” has to be municipality-accepted (Like a named public or private road). This last bit is about universally expected, even by most surveyors. But in Knox county, they have decided that these tracts, that are not under their jurisdiction, must have 25′ of road frontage.

      As to your statement of “mountain subdivision.” I am not entirely sure what they are deciding that is. But be aware, that just because you do not have to go through planning (or environmental health) to record these divisions, you will still have to deal with them when you seek a building permit. You will still have to conform to zoning regulations (setbacks, etc.). You will still need a septic permit (if you don’t have some other sewer system available).
      So, while you can divide, you are not exempt from government interference.

  21. I have a 10.5 acre property in Chattanooga that I am hoping to split into a 5.5 acre and 5 acre plot but the city is saying that it has no road frontage because the paved portion of the public road stops short 15 feet from the property line (it dead-ends at the property and the gravel driveway into the property continues on from the public road). It would have 52 feet of frontage if the city would count this as frontage. They’re also saying we can’t split the property without 100ft (50ft for each lot) of road frontage, so we’re stuck on two fronts. Any idea how to move forward here?

    • There are some discrepancies in the rules. For example, the regulation that defines “subdivision” specifically excludes those tracts 5 acres or more except those “requiring new street…construction.” The issue is what is defined as a street. It is the position of most planning offices I have dealt with that a “street” or “road” is a municipality-approved road (public or private). There isn’t, however, any point that explicitly states this that I can find. It also doesn’t state you have to have any specific width of road frontage. Most of the surveyors I’ve spoken with tend to hold you need like 25′. The Knox County planning claims 25′. The reg says nothing.

      So, to answer your question, you may not even have to deal with planning. You might get an attorney to write deeds for the two tracts and record them. You may get push-back when you seek a build permit, but that’s a whole other animal.

      TCA 13-3-401 (3) “Road” or “roads” means, relates to and includes roads, streets, highways, avenues, boulevards, parkways, lanes or other ways or any part thereof;
      TCA 13-4-301 (3) “Street” or “streets” means and includes streets, avenues, boulevards, roads, lanes, alleys and other ways;

  22. It through passing down four people got coowner ship of a piece of property and if we got a surveyor to divide it how does a decision be made of who gets what part and does value of certain parts matter?

    • I assume you are saying some land has been inherited and is now “owned” by several heirs.

      As for how it is divided and then who gets what, well, if the heirs cannot decide amongst themselves, they would likely need to take it to court and have a judge decide. This also applies to the division of the land. A surveyor doesn’t “get” to decide anything. It is either divided how the owners’ want it done or it is done to meet regulations. Technically, it should be both. How the owners want it provided it meets the county/city regulations.

      Now, as for value vs distribution, that’s an appraisal issue. Remember though, not all value can have a dollar figure. Sentimental value doesn’t affect appraisal.

  23. I have a 10 acre piece of land with one home on it on Maury county. If I build a second home on the property can it be subdivided at a later date I to a 3 acre plot?

    • Whether you build on it or not doesn’t typically impact how/if you can divide. Adding a house doesn’t improve the chances of dividing. You must still meet the requirements of the regional planning commission. It may be that you build and then cannot divide because you don’t have enough road frontage or some other stipulation. If you want these to be stand-alone lots, you are best served by dividing first. In fact, if you have any intent on dividing your land, you are better served by doing as soon as possible. I haven’t seen regulations get more lax, only stricter over time.

  24. My mother has 32 acres in Muddy Pond, Overton County. She was going to give me 2 acres for my first home. The septic man came out and said parcels had to be 5 acres is that true?

    • Every county has different standards with different zoning regulations. If you are at 5 acres or more (and some other stipulations), you are no longer under the purview of a planning commission. I do know of a few areas where they have stipulated the minimum lot size is 5 acres, but generally, not across the board, but for specific zones (like Agriculture).

      According to their website, “Overton County does not have building codes or zoning restrictions for properties outside of the Livingston City Limits.”
      There will be someone, like the county mayor, that you can talk to about subdivision regulations.
      Steven Barlow

      Overton County Executive
      306 W. Main St., Room 232
      Livingston TN 38570
      (931) 823-5638

  25. I own 7.7 acres off of a main highway with my house set back in the middle of the 7.7 acres with a long driveway off of the main road. I’d like to use the front corner of my property that is up against the main road for my own drive-thru coffee stand business. The building would be 8.5×14 and I would need to get water, sewer, and elec setup to it which is actually already right there within 25-50ft. There would be about 200-300ft of the property along the main road. The total area is about 200-300ft wide by 100ft deep. Would I need that front corner of my property divided and re-zoned for commercial use in order to do this?

    • It is not uncommon for zoning lines to ignore property boundaries. It may be possible to get that portion of the property zoned commercial. Be aware that there is this thing called “pocket zoning,” which is a no no. Essentially, there is a minimum size a zone can be and any less becomes this “pocket.” So, if your property and everything touching that area is zoned R-1, you cannot simply create a 1/4 acre patch of Commercial zoning.
      An exception to this, before you go looking around the county’s zoning map, is “current” use when zoning took place. It is not uncommon, when they created zoning, to zone properties to what they were currently in use of. This makes for a patchwork of zones, but after the initial setup, this isn’t typically allowed.
      Look at the zoning regulations for the zone you are in and see what is “acceptable.”

      Beyond zoning, you may want to discuss with an attorney about liability and what you can do to protect yourself or you home. It may be that you need to subdivide, just to put the coffee shop land into an LLC or something, to decrease the risk of a lawsuit seizing your house along with your business.

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