APNs do not define title to real estate | Patton Sullivan Brodehl LLP

In a previous 2020 article, Money and Dirt covered an opinion from California’s Fourth Appellate District that an appraiser’s parcel number (APN), on its own, “does not necessarily demonstrate actual physical location. of a property”. In this case, the court held that a trust deed with numerous inaccuracies could not be saved by its reference to an APN, and was therefore void. See here for the previous post: Is an APN sufficient to describe ownership in a trust deed?

A notice recently released by the California First Appellate District — XPO Logistics Freight, Inc. v. Hayward Property, LLC – strikes a similar chord.

Facts: References to APNs in Title Deeds Lead to Ownership Dispute

The XPO the case involved a title deed to real estate in the town of Hayward, California.

In 1979, the sole owner of the property divided the property into four parcels, as shown on a registered parcel map.

Sometime before 1997, the Alameda County Assessor divided the entire property, for tax assessment purposes, into three assessor parcels, which were listed on an unregistered assessor map.

In 1997, the sole owner of the property recorded a lot line adjustment reconfiguring the four parcels on the 1979 parcel map into two parcels. One of these parcels was eventually acquired by XPO Logistics Freight, Inc. (XPO), and the other parcel was acquired by Hayward Property, LLC and Crown Enterprises, Inc. (Hayward Property).

XPO and Hayward Property got into a dispute over which of their parcels included a disputed area.

The various title deeds reflecting the surrenders to XPO and the Hayward property included “meters and boundaries” descriptions that favored XPO’s claim to the disputed area. But the title documents too contained references to APNs which arguably furthered Hayward Property’s claim to the disputed area.

Both parties filed a lawsuit, alleging silent title claims, among other things.

Court of first instance: APNs are irrelevant

The trial court ruled on the findings in favor of XPO.

The court rejected Hayward Property’s arguments based on APN references, holding that APNs “are created for use by the assessor in the assessment of property taxes; they are not relevant to questions concerning the disposal of immovable property.

As such, the court ruled that XPO owned the disputed area free and clear of any claim by Hayward Property.

Court of Appeal: confirmed; the trial court correctly ignored the APNs

The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the trial court.

The court first noted two relevant laws:

  • Section 327 of the Revenue and Tax Code, which provides that if an appraiser’s card is not registered, “land shall not be described in any deed or transfer by reference to [that] map.”
  • Section 11911.1 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, which allows a county to require that every deed or conveyance “must bear on it the parcel number of the tax roll”, although such notations “do not constitute proof of title” and that conflicts be governed by “the legal description statement.

Taken together, the court ruled that the laws “clearly require that APN references in a deed … be ignored unless the front of the deed clearly shows that the references are part of the legal description of the package being transported.” The court also noted that an APN “need not correspond to actual subdivisions, lots, parcels, or other legal divisions or land boundaries.”

The court found, “If a deed is registered in a county with an APN rating requirement, and the deed bears APN ratings referring to an unregistered assessor card, those APNs may not be treated as part of the legal description of the act of the package being transported unless the front of the act clearly indicates such intent.

In the disputed deeds, the APN references appeared on the front pages “without any apparent reference to the description of the property being transferred, which appears in each deed on a separate attachment without any reference to the APN”. Thus, APN references were best interpreted as “included for tax purposes pursuant to section 11911.1” and “cannot be read as part of the legal description of the transferred property”.


APNs are essentially tools used by the county assessor for tax purposes and generally do not define real estate title.