With the number of controversial large development projects being proposed in town, many people are curious about where the developments are and how decisions are being made. The first step in researching is with land ownership records, which are public data. While I’m working on a larger story about zoning and development, here are some notes on how I’m researching land ownership in Arlington.
Guide To Researching Land Ownership
While some of the GIS or property lookup sites may seem intimidating or work differently than other mapping tools, if you spend just a little time with them they’re very powerful. Remember, property ownership records are all public!
If you’re curious about a specific property in Arlington, here’s how to learn more:
- Figure out the property address (you can also search by owners, but we’ll do address here).
- Open your browser to the Arlington GIS Interactive Map - https://www.mapsonline.net/arlingtonma/index.html
- On the left side of the map, click on Find to open the left-hand panel.
- Next to Address: edit box start typing just the name of the street.
- A dropdown of available streets in Arlington will appear - click on the appropriate dropdown entry, like “MASS AVE”.
- Then enter the street number of the address in the # field - this will also bring up a drop-down - finish typing the number or select the correct number from the drop-down.
- Ta-da! The Detail Information for the Parcel at that address will be displayed below, with basic ownership and facts about the property.
- Click on the Property Card & Services “Click To View” to see the detailed building and ownership information for this property - typically includes the last several sales and amounts, past year’s property taxes, along with number of rooms, bathrooms, a sketch of any buildings, photo, and other information.
- For example, 882 Mass Ave - the building where Toraya was and is now proposed as a new development - is parcel 126-1-6.
- To share a property URL/link with someone, find the Parcel ID for a property by searching as above. Remember, commercial buildings, buildings with multiple street addresses, or apartment buildings may be multiple parcels.
- Copy the Parcel ID of the property you want to share - typically three numbers, separated by - dash or minus signs. Copy the ID exactly as shown.
- Create your URL by putting the Parcel ID after this string:
- That is, to send someone a link to the record for 882 Mass Ave, send them this link:
- When they open the link, they will see the property Detail Information, and can click on the Zoom To arrow to see the property on the map in context.
Try looking up 1211 Mass Ave (Parcel 58-11-1) yourself, to see who owns the Hotel Lexington proposed development.
Land Ownership Resources
A list of websites I’ve found valuable while looking into property deeds and records.
- Mass GIS Interactive Land Map - official state-run GIS map of Mass property records.
- View the Map tool itself.
- Download the user guide PDF.
- Confused how GIS maps work? Try either:
- Clicking on the Find bar on the left, then entering a street name (there’s a dropdown) and then address number.
- You need to click on the right side either the ‘hand’ icon (to move the map around) or the ‘i’ icon to click on a parcel to see a popup with property details.
- Mass Land Records - official Mass Registry of Deeds homepage for all land records in the state.
- Arlington’s GIS Department Maps Homepage - includes interactive property lookup tools and zoning, precinct, school, and other detailed overview maps of Arlington districts.
- Most land in Massachusetts is Recorded land at a registry, although some is Registered in the Mass Land Court.
- Recorded land is most common in Mass, and is referenced by a book and page number (at the Registry) or a Case File number. The Registry records documents about the land, but buyers should still do their own title search to verify there are no encumbrances. Questions go to the Mass Registry of Deeds.
- Registered land is handled in the Land Court, and the documentation is much stricter. The state of Registered land is effectively assured by the land court, and may be referenced by a Certificate number. Questions go to the Mass Land Court.
- Deeds.com Primer on what Recorded versus Registered land means.