What is a Plat Map, and How Do I Use It?

By LandCentral

A plat is a map, drawn to scale, showing parcels of land. These maps are drawn by a licensed surveyor, who will then record the approved plat map with a county governing body. With each parcel comes a legal description. A legal description describes a specific piece of land, known as real property. Each county is unique and might have different requirements for recording plat maps.

Here are some pieces of information you will find on a plat map: county, state, overview map, orientation (north arrow), scale, township, range, section, subdivision, block, lot, tract, book number, page number, assessor’s parcel number, lot lines, zoning, land use code, topography, dimensions, size, street names, easements, address, distances and bearings, owner names, adjacent plat map numbers, survey date, surveyor name. With all of that information plat maps can become quite busy and seem overloaded. However, all of this information can actually be helpful if you know what you are looking at.

Plat maps can take several different forms and legal descriptions. Each one offers its own challenges in translating the legal descriptions into a map or latitude/longitude coordinates. Following are the most common legal description formats.

Township/Range/Section Format

This image shows an overview of the Township/Range/Section grid.



Here is an example of a township/range legal description and a plat map that shows each portion of the legal description and how it correlates with the plat map.


Subdivision Format

[Subdivision Name], [Unit], [Block], [Lot]

This format follows the structure above. Counties can often furnish you with a map of the entire subdivision. Each subdivision may be broken up into several units. Each unit will be made up of blocks, which are usually groups of lots all connected to one another, not separated by any roads. The block number will often be printed in the middle of the group of lots. Each individual lot will have its own number.

Tract/Lot Format

[Tract ##], [Lot ##]

Another potential map form is the Tract/Lot format, and it is similar to the subdivision format. Maps, whether they are a county, city or subdivision map, should help you locate a numbered tract. Tracts sometimes have blocks as well, but usually they are small enough that they are just lot numbers.


Metes and Bounds Format

Many of the southern United States are known as “State-Land States”. This land was surveyed in the indiscriminate “metes and bounds” system. This survey system uses natural landmarks, such as trees and streams, neighboring land, and distances to describe the boundaries of a plot of land. Below are two examples of deeds which use the metes and bounds format.

1) In indiscriminate metes and bounds, distance is measured in 16 ½ foot lengths which are interchangeably known as poles, rods, or perches. Note that 320 poles = 1 mile. The directions are measured in degrees as compass bearings, beginning with the first direction listed and moving toward the second direction. Thus “north 50 east” in the deed below means 50 degrees east of the north and “south 30 west” means 30 degrees west of south.


2) A certain parcel or tract of land containing one hundred and forty acres and thirty-six poles of land situate laying and being in Mercer County on the Doctors Fork and bounded as follows to wit:

Beginning at the mouth of a branch at an ash stump thence up the creek south 20 poles to 2 beach, thence east 41 poles to a small walnut in Arnett’s line, thence north 50 east 80 poles to a linn hickory dogwood in said line, thence north 38 poles to an ash, thence west 296 poles with Potts’s line till it intersects with Tolly’s line, thence south 30 west 80 poles to a white oak and sugar, thence east 223 poles to beginning

Frequently, the description of the tract does not define a closed figure. There may be slight gaps or crossings where the end and the beginning do not meet exactly.

All of this is important information for you. Study your plat map and legal description and compare it to your parcel. It’s not uncommon to find that your parcel is slightly larger or smaller than what the county has assessed. Plat maps are helpful when easements are questioned between adjacent owners or when building a home or fence. So contact your local assessor’s office and get a copy of your plat map.

Image Credits: Richard Schulman, BLM.gov

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