Adjusting Your View of Lot Line Adjustments

Q. What is a lot line adjustment?
A. The boundary line dividing two parcels of land may, from time to time, be moved in its location. Such a move is typically made by agreement between the owners of the parcels. The owners may desire to straighten out a “jog” in the property line or may wish to exchange acreage so that both lots are more useful in shape and/or size to the respective owners. Change in the location of the boundary line effectively creates two “new” parcels or lots with new dimensions.

Q. What authority does the planning board have to review lot line adjustments?
A. The authority of the planning board is set forth in RSA 674:1 and further in RSA 674:35, which specifically allows the town to authorize the planning board to regulate the subdivision of land. The term “subdivision,” as used in these statutes, means, among other things, the division of a lot or parcel of land into two or more lots and includes resubdivision. RSA 672:14. Although it may seem to be a bit of a stretch, a lot line adjustment is apparently considered a subdivision or resubdivision of land. Thus, all lot line adjustments, being subdivisions, may be subject to planning board regulation and review. It should be noted that there is no express statutory provision that specifically authorizes the planning board to regulate lot line adjustments or defines a lot line adjustment as a subdivision. However, RSA 676:4, which sets forth the planning board’s procedures on plats, does provide that no public hearing is necessary where a planning board is acting on a “minor lot line adjustment or boundary agreement which do[es] not create [a] buildable lot.” RSA 676:4 I (e). This statutory provision appears to stand alone and is the only mention of lot line adjustment in New Hampshire land use statutes. It infers and presumes that the planning board has authority to review lot line adjustments and that any “major” lot line adjustment would invoke the same procedures, including a public hearing, that any other subdivision would require.

Q. What is the effect of the planning board approval of a lot line adjustment?
A. It is important to understand that the effect of the planning board approval is limited. Essentially, the approval acts as any other subdivision approval. It is recognition that the new lot line constitutes a use of the land that is consistent with local land use regulations and the overall land use plan of the municipality. The approval of the planning board DOES NOT create the new line. Lines dividing parcels of land do not move or disappear without a conveyance or a merger. In the case of a lot line adjustment, we typically see a lot line move, either straighten out or move in a way to make one lot larger and one smaller or to create more favorable dimensions for one or both lots. In order to complete this move, a conveyance must occur. The owners of the respective lots must transfer, by deed, parts of their respective parcels to each other (in some situations only one owner transfers to the other). The documents reflecting the conveyance should then be recorded in the registry of deeds along with the plan approved by the planning board. This portion of the lot line adjustment process is a private matter and the planning board need not be involved in the negotiation of the location of the line, the cost of the transaction or other private terms of agreement. The limited job of the planning board is to review the configuration of the proposed new lots and lines to determine whether they are in conformance with subdivision regulations and any local zoning ordinance.

In order to alleviate any confusion regarding the effect of planning board approval, it may be advisable for a planning board to indicate in its notice of decision and/or as a note on the plan that approval by the planning board in an of itself does not effectuate a change in lot line location. Such approval merely constitutes recognition by the municipality that the lot configurations, as proposed, are in conformance with local land use regulations or are otherwise accepted with non-conformances.

Q. What are the tax implications of lot line adjustment?
A. If the lot line adjustment creates a change in the acreage of any particular lot, the municipality should recognize such a change in its assessment for tax purposes. RSA 75:8, I(e) provides that “Annually, and in accordance with state assessing guidelines, the assessors and selectmen…shall consider adjusting assessments for any properties that…have undergone subdivision, boundary line adjustments or mergers…” Additionally, RSA 31:95-a requires that every town continually update its tax maps to indicate ownership and parcel size changes so that the maps accurately represent the boundaries and physical location of each parcel. Recently, many towns have undertaken the expensive and painstaking task of updating tax maps. Where lot line adjustments have created changes in the acreage of certain parcels, the new maps should so indicate and the owners should be taxed accordingly. Assessors, prior to changing an assessment due to lot line adjustment, should be certain that the lot line adjustment, approved by the planning board, actually resulted in a conveyance of property consistent with the approved plan. The assessors should obtain copies of the recorded deed(s) describing the new boundaries and acreage in addition to proof of planning board approval. In some cases, parties may obtain approval from the planning board for adjustment but never follow through with the conveyance. In these situations it is clear that the parties should continue to be taxed based on the acreage that is actually owned despite the existence of an approved plan that indicates a changed boundary line.