What Does Subdivision of Property Mean?

Subdivision of property refers to a process of taking one piece of property and dividing it into several. It's a fairly commonly used practice in real estate development, where a developer will buy one large tract of land and divide it into multiple ones, each containing a house, business space or condominium unit. The subdivision development process is regulated by local governments, so you generally need to work closely with your municipality if you're looking to subdivide your land.


  • Subdivision means taking one legal unit of real estate and converting it into multiple independent properties.

Understanding Subdivision of Property

Property records in the United States are generally maintained at the local level by counties, cities or towns. These records specify the dimensions of each property based on some boundaries determined by a formal land survey. The records are organized by individual plots of land and show how each plot's ownership has changed over time, including deeds conveying title to the property and other legal matters affecting the property like liens and mortgages.

Local governments also set zoning rules for how properties in different sectors of the jurisdiction can be developed. For instance, some areas might be zoned for single-family residential construction with minimum lot sizes, some might be zoned for multiple-story buildings with ground-level shops and residences above and some might be zoned for light industrial use.

Subdividing a property refers to taking one piece of property and legally turning it into multiple plots, each with their own distinct entries in property records. When this can be done is usually regulated by local governments. Areas of suburban homes that were divided into lots by developers in this manner are commonly referred to as subdivisions.

How to Subdivide Land

Usually, if you are planning to subdivide land, subdivision plans are required by local ordinances specifying how you will lay out the individual lots and what you intend to do with them. These subdivision plans are called plats, and they're usually developed by professional land surveying firms that will measure in detail how the individual lots will be laid out and ensure they're compliant with local zoning rules governing lot size and other factors.

You'll also often be required to show that the planned subdivision complies with other local rules, including access to utilities and roads so that the future owners of the new lots will be able to have sewer and electric service and be able to access their property. Some subdivision maps may also show areas set off for public use, such as new parks or schools to be constructed.

Exactly what the subdivision application process looks like and what the zoning requirements demand varies heavily from place to place. It's often worth consulting a local land use lawyer who can advise you on what your jurisdiction requires and what can help speed approvals.

Zoning and Variances

Zoning rules specify how individual plots of land can be used. Most jurisdictions have some sort of master planning document specifying the types of zoning properties can have and maps showing which properties are under which sort of zoning.

If you wish to build something or run a business that doesn't comply with your property's zoning, you can potentially ask to have the property rezoned or acquire a variance or a conditional use permit. Those terms both refer to special permission from local authorities to conduct activities that normally aren't allowed by zoning rules.

Conditional use permits are often more restrictive and can involve landowners agreeing to abide by certain special regulations. For instance, someone opening a convenience store near a high school might agree not to stock alcoholic beverages, or a restaurant owner looking to open in a mostly residential area might agree to close at a certain hour.

Note that even for uses permitted by zoning, you'll usually still have to have subdivision plans approved by local authorities and secure other permits, like building permits and certificates of occupancy, as required by law.