Guide to Getting Permission To Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia
Note: this page is being expanded and updated.
Gardening on public land? Learn more about your soil.
If you are gardening on publicly owned land, you may be eligible for a Brownfields Grant to test your soil for free and provide custom soil safety recommendations. See this document from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability for more information.
The Philadelphia Land Bank
Note: the Philadelphia Land Bank is now part of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), a City government agency that oversees development of city-owned property, including vacant lots.
The Philadelphia Land Bank is a powerful tool to return vacant and tax-delinquent properties to productive use. It is the City’s central hub for distributing publicly owned land. Through the Land Bank’s open space program, they can provide legal access or ownership of vacant lots to community gardens and other community-managed open space. This can be done through a sale, in which ownership of the land is transferred for a nominal price, or through a lease agreement.
For more information, check out their website.
I’d like to gain legal access to a vacant lot that is part of the Land Bank. How do I get started?
If a garden or farm is looking to purchase land from the Philadelphia Land Bank, support from a District City Council member will be required. Look up your District City Council Member here and reach out to them for their support. You should also contact your City Council member if you are interested in establishing a lease agreement for longer than one year.
If you are interest in leasing or purchasing a city-owned vacant lot for a community garden, search for the property on the Land Bank’s map of available real estate. You can apply to use a city-owned lot as a community garden or open space using this online application. The application requires detailed plans for the garden or open space, any organizational documents, and information about funding to maintain the garden or open space.
For more detailed information on the Land Bank’s policies on community gardens, see their disposition policy. The relevant section begins on page 9 under “Community-Managed Gardens and Open Space.”
Leasing from the Land Bank
Community gardens and community-managed open spaces are eligible for leases for up to one year in length, when approved by the Land Bank Board of Directors. You can express interest in a lease agreement for a community garden on vacant land if you are seeking to start a garden, or if you have an established garden or open space.
To enter into a lease with the Land Bank, you must be part of a nonprofit organization or an unincorporated nonprofit association. A group of people running a community garden or open space can become an unincorporated nonprofit association by completing this form and returning it to:
Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations
P.O. Box 8722
Harrisburg, PA 17105
There is a $70 nonrefundable filing fee, made payable to the Department of State.
Community gardens seeking leases with the City are also required to have insurance. Learn more about insurance here. For more detail on the requirements for community gardens looking to lease or purchase lots, see the Land Bank’s disposition policy on pages 7-9.
Purchasing lots from the Land Bank
According to Land Bank policy, a garden or farm must be in operation for at least five years before seeking permanent preservation by purchasing land held by the Land Bank for a nominal fee. They will also need to show support from local civic organizations and/or a majority of immediate neighbors.
If a garden or farm is looking to purchase land from the Philadelphia Land Bank, support from a District City Council member will be required. Look up your District City Council Member here and reach out to them for their support.
This document is meant to be a living document of resources and recommendations for those growing food for themselves, their neighbors or others. If you would like to add a resource to this page, or if you see something on this page that appears to be inaccurate, please contact Jonathan McJunkin.
More resources for starting a community garden, farm or open space
Learn best practices and the latest updates on COVID-19 and urban agriculture in Philadelphia.
Like any business or organization, running a garden or farm creates some risk. Find out what you need to know about insurance and liability to protect yourself, your organization and your garden.
Here’s how to follow Philadelphia building code when building a shed or other structure on your community garden or farm.
If vacant land you would like to use as green space is currently owned by a private landowner, you can often make an agreement with them to use the land. Here’s how.
Sheriff’s sales are an important tool for acquiring ownership where a property is burdened with unpaid debt.