Amendments to Conservatorship Law Will Create Opportunities for Gardeners

UPDATE OCTOBER 22, 2014: HB1363 passed!

The “Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act” currently gives community members and nonprofit organizations the ability to return blighted properties back into productive use. The Urban Tree Connection successfully used this conservatorship process to transform a blighted unused plot of land into a vibrant community garden. A proposed bill, HB 1363, will expand this Act so that, in addition to properties with buildings or structures on them, conservatorship can be used for vacant properties. This is great news for individuals and groups looking to put some of Philly’s 30,000+ vacant lots to use.

Conservatorship is a tool through which a nonprofit organization or community member can ask the court to be able to control and improve a property because the current owner has abandoned it, allowing it to fall into decay and disuse. The person appointed by the court to manage the property, the conservator, is then able to manage the property, bring it into compliance with municipal code and put it to use.

While conservatorship can be a great way for a community to be able to transform properties so they are a benefit and no longer blight to the neighborhood, the process has drawbacks. The complicated application process requires the involvement of the court, entails a hearing and may require legal assistance. The conservator has to find sources to fund the proposed project on that property and must regularly submit progress reports to the court.

For more information on how the application process works and who can apply for conservatorship, check out our pathway on conservatorship, or this manual written by Regional Housing Legal Services.

Given how many vacant properties there are in Philadelphia, it is important that we get these changes to the law so that people can use conservatorship for vacant lots as well as properties with structures on them.

In addition to the changes in the conservatorship law, a bill is set to be proposed this fall that will decrease the amount of time a non-owner has to actively use a property before she can ask the court for title of that property. This process is called adverse possession and you can find out more about it here. Currently Pennsylvania requires that someone be on the property for 21 years, but the proposed bill would shorten that time to only 10 years. Decreasing this period will make it faster for people to gain title to properties they are putting to productive use.

Please help get these bills passed! Call up your delegate to voice your support for HB 1363 and the adverse possession bill.

*Lawrence Farnese, 1st Senatorial District: 717-787-5662

Christine Tartaglione, 2nd Senatorial District: 717-787-1141

Shirley Kitchen, 3rd Senatorial District: 717-787-6735

*LeAnna Washington, 4th Senatorial District: 717-783-2175

Michael Stack, III, 5th Senatorial District: 717-787-9608

*Vincent Hughes, 7th Senatorial District: 717-787-7112

Anthony Williams, 8th Senatorial District: 717-787-5970

* Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Talking points to use when contacting your delegate:

  • Please support HB 1363, the Amendments to the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act. I believe that allowing community groups and individuals access to blighted, vacant properties for projects like neighborhood spaces and community gardens is very important for my neighborhood.
  • As a resident of Philadelphia, it is important to me that you work to make vacant land and blighted property accessible to community members who are working to put that land to good use.
  • Please vote for HB XX and lessen the number of years needed to obtain adverse possession. Many land stewards deserve to have the rights to the land they have been taking care of for years.
  • Tell your story! Let your representative know how you’ve used vacant land or how you plan to transform a blighted space if these bills are passed.