When you need to locate the physical address for a parcel of land, you may need to determine the legal description for the parcel and use it to search public land or tax records.
Finding a physical or mailing address for a lot or piece of land can be challenging, especially in rural areas. First, try to contact the landowner or ask neighbors. Failing that, it will be necessary to figure out the legal description for the land in question and then search public land or tax records. A county plat map is the standard map used for these purposes. Plat maps can be found at the county courthouse, real estate offices and other locations.
Understand the Public Land Survey System
To find the physical or mailing address for a lot or piece of land, you will first need to locate the lot on a county plat map or other map (i.e., USGS 7.5’ quadrangle) on which the legal description can be found. The Public Land Survey System is a standardized method for subdividing and describing any location within the United States. By locating the location of the property on the county plat map or land survey, you can identify the legal description for the parcel. You can then use the legal description to locate the physical address on county tax or public land records at the county courthouse.
How to Read a Plat Map
Start by locating the township and range for the property. Most U.S. states' land is subdivided into squares that are six square miles in area, called a township. The squares are designated by township (north/south) and range (east/west) numbers. The top of a page on a county plat map usually gives its township and range designation.
Find the section number and the location within the section. Each square mile within a township is called a section, and sections are numbered from 1 to 36. Sections are further subdivided into quarters (160 acres), sixteenths (40 acres), thirty-seconds (10 acres), and so on. The quarters are expressed by direction (NW, NE, SW, SE). Thus a lot might be located in the NW quarter of the SW quarter of the NE quarter within its section.
Once you've located the property, record the legal description. A legal description would include a township number, a range number, a section number, and the quarter (or eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, or sixty-fourth, depending on lot size) of the section. For example, the legal description for a hypothetical lot might read: "NE quarter of the NW quarter of the NW quarter of the SW quarter of Section 12, Township 50 North, Range 31 West." The quarter sections are the hardest to figure out, and a ruler may help to subdivide the section into quarters (and quarters of quarters).
Review County Records to Find an Address
Armed with your legal description, you can now search the public records to see if you can find an address. Start by taking the legal description to the county, township or borough courthouse. Find the deed office or public records office. County offices vary, but every county will have an office that houses public records such as deeds and property tax records. If the legal description is too confusing to figure out, simply take the plat map or other map showing Section, Township and Range to the courthouse.
Ask for assistance from the staff in charge of public records. Using the legal description, the address of the lot or piece of land in question can typically be found either in deed or property tax records. If the lot is in a town or city, and you know the subdivision name and lot number, the address can also be found within the public records.
Other Search Options
A final option is to ask a local real estate professional for assistance. They are knowledgeable about how land is subdivided in their area, and most are experts at finding legal descriptions for lots. These services may not come for free, however, so be prepared to put up some money if you need to help of a real estate professional.
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