A “How To” for Conservatorship of Vacant Properties



Conservatorship is a helpful tool to obtain the rights to manage a property in order to return it to productive use and into compliance with code.  Take a look at a great success story where the conservatorship law was effectively used to turn an abandoned property into a vibrant community garden.  You can learn more about the proposed changes to this law to allow for conservatorship for vacant lots here (link to blog article). 

Conservatorship, while potentially faster than other mechanisms to gain legal access to land, can be a tricky legal process and requires preparation.   For more comprehensive guidelines on the existing conservatorship law, take a look at this manual by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.


What Kind of Property is Eligible for Conservatorship?

  • Residential, commercial or industrial buildings or structures and its surrounding land
  • Vacant lots on which a building has been demolished
  • Adjacent properties may also be included in one petition if those properties are owned by the same person and if the properties were used for the same or related purposes
  • In order for a property to be eligible for conservatorship, the property has to be unoccupied, abandoned by its owner, and in an unsafe and unhealthy condition


Who can File a Petition to Establish a Conservatorship?

  • The owner of the property
  • A resident or business owner within 500 feet (PROPOSED: 2,000 feet) of the property
  • A nonprofit organization that operates in the city and has participated in a project within a one-mile radius (PROPOSED: five-mile radius) of the property
  •  A lien holder or other secured creditor of the owner
  • A municipality or school district in which the property is located


What do I have to do to Establish a Conservatorship?

As a part of the petition to the court to establish a conservatorship of a particular property you must prepare:

  • A statement that the property meets conditions listed above
  • If possible, but not required:
    • A statement that the owner is in violation of municipal code or that the property is a public nuisance
    • A recommendation for who should be conservator of the property (whether it be an individual or nonprofit corporation)
    • A preliminary plan with estimated costs for how you are going to bring the property back into compliance with municipal code and area plans, as well as sources of funding you plan to use
    • A schedule of the mortgages, liens and other encumbrances on the property

Once the petition has been filed, a hearing will be scheduled for the court to assess the feasibility of the plan and the proposed financing of that plan


What Powers and Duties Do the Conservator Have?

  • Develop a plan to get rid of the code violations on the property
  • Operate, manage, and improve the property in order to bring it in compliance with all municipal code requirements
  • Find funding sources to finance the implementation of that plan
  • Contract for the repair and maintenance of the property
  • File a lien against the property to cover the costs of the conservatorship such as the costs of rehabilitating the property, attorneys fees, and court costs