California real estate and deed of trust disputes | courtroom war stories and lessons learned

APNs Do Not Define Title To Real Property

In a prior post from 2020, Money and Dirt covered an opinion from California’s Fourth Appellate District holding that an Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN), by itself, “does not necessarily demonstrate the actual, physical location of a property.”  In that case, the court held that a deed of trust with numerous inaccuracies could not be saved by its reference to an APN, and was therefore void.  See here for the prior post:  Is an APN Sufficient to Describe Property in a Deed of Trust?

An opinion recently published by California’s First Appellate District — XPO Logistics Freight, Inc. v. Hayward Property, LLC — strikes a similar chord.

Facts: references to APNs in title documents give rise to ownership dispute

The XPO case involved title to real property in the City of Hayward, California.

In 1979, the property’s sole owner divided the property into four parcels as shown in a recorded parcel map.

Some time before 1997, the Alameda County Assessor divided the entire property, for tax assessment purposes, into three assessor’s parcels, which were enumerated on an unrecorded assessor’s map.

In 1997, the property’s sole owner recorded a lot line adjustment reconfiguring the four parcels on the 1979 parcel map into two parcels.  One of those 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 came into conflict over which of their parcels included a disputed area.

The various title documents reflecting the conveyances to XPO and Hayward Property included “metes and bounds” descriptions that favored XPO’s claim to the disputed area.  But the title documents also contained references to APNs that arguably favored Hayward Property’s claim to the disputed area.

Both sides sued, alleging claims for quiet title among others.

Trial Court: APNs are not relevant

The trial court granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of XPO.

The court rejected Hayward Property’s arguments based on the APN references, holding that APNs “are created for use by the assessor in assessing property taxes; they are not relevant to issues concerning the alienation of real property.”

As such, the court held, XPO owned the disputed area free and clear of any claims by Hayward Property.

Court of Appeal: affirmed; trial court correctly disregarded the APNs

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

The court first noted two relevant statutes:

  • Revenue and Taxation Code section 327, which provides that if an assessor’s map is unrecorded, “land shall not be described in any deed or conveyance by a reference to [that] map.”
  • Revenue and Taxation Code section 11911.1, which authorizes a county to require that each deed or conveyance “shall have noted upon it the tax roll parcel number,” although such notations “will not be proof of title” and conflicts are governed by “the stated legal description.”

Taken together, the court held, the statutes “plainly require that APN references in a deed … be disregarded unless the face of the deed clearly shows the references to be part of the legal description of the parcel conveyed.”  The court also noted that an APN “need not correspond with actual subdivisions, lots, tracts or other legal divisions or boundaries of land.”

The court concluded: “If a deed is recorded in a county with an APN-notation requirement, and the deed bears APN notations referring to an unrecorded assessor’s map, those APN notations may not be treated as part of the deed’s legal description of the parcel conveyed unless the face of the deed clearly indicates such an intention.

In the deeds at issue, the APN references appeared on the face pages “with no apparent reference to the description of the property being conveyed, which appears in each deed on a separate attachment with no reference to the APN.”  Thus, the APN references were best construed as notations “included for tax purposes in compliance with section 11911.1” and “cannot be read as part of the legal description of the property conveyed.”


APNs are essentially tools used by the County Assessor for tax purposes, and usually do not define title to real property.