Get Permission to Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia

Guide to Getting Permission To Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia

Land owned by the City of Philadelphia may be held by a variety of city agencies, including (but not limited to) the Philadelphia Land Bank, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), Department of Public Property (DPP), and Parks and Recreation. See which agency owns the land using the city’s Atlas tool.

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.

What are my options for using city-owned land with permission?

  • Urban Garden Agreements: Legal land access is an important protection for gardeners and farmers. Sometimes landowners offer informal verbal permission for a community to use their land. A license puts the agreement into writing. It gives permission to do something or be somewhere. It can be taken away at any time because it is given freely. This is the standard agreement offered to gardens and farms. It is called an Urban Garden Agreement (UGA) in Philadelphia. The UGA allows gardeners to use the property at a small or “nominal” cost ($1) but can be canceled at any time without notice or reason.
  • Individual Garden Agreements: If you are looking to start an individual garden, you may seek to enter into an Individual Garden Agreement (IGA) with the City of Philadelphia. IGAs allow gardeners to use the property at a small or “nominal” cost of $25, for a term of one year. The City enters into IGAs with the expectation that the lessee will maintain the property throughout the lease terms.
    • A lease is a contract that provides land tenure by giving a right to the property for a set time. The City leases properties for urban agricultural activities defined as an urban garden, a community garden, or an urban farm. An urban garden is a non-commercial garden used by one household; a community garden is a non-commercial garden managed by a nonprofit; and an urban farm is a commercial garden that has a goal of earning a profit. All City leases require liability insurance, regardless of the length of the lease. Maintenance standards will be provided in writing to all applicants. These agreements may be renewed annually at the request of the applicant and at the discretion of the City but can be revoked due to a violation of the contract, such as a code violation. Contact the agency that holds the land to learn about how to obtain a lease for that property.
  • Community Garden Licenses: If you are looking to create a community garden, you may seek a Community Garden license for a term of up to five years. Leases and licenses that exceed a term of one year, as well as lease and license renewals, and purchase options may be available at the discretion of the land-holding agency and are subject to the approval of your district council person. To acquire a lease or license for a community garden, you must receive sponsorship from a local organization, secure and maintain insurance that is acceptable to the City, and provide a maintenance plan and description of how you plan to provide a benefit to the city.
  • Interim-Use Agreements: These agreements allow a temporary use of property until a particular date or event, or until zoning regulations no longer permit the use.  They require that the use be in line with Philadelphia’s Zoning Code, so you need to ensure your garden or farm is in compliance with the Code.

What if the land is held by the Philadelphia Land Bank?

The Philadelphia Land Bank is 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 (see above).

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 or lease for longer than one year 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.

If you are interested 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


Visit their website.

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 details on the requirements for community gardens looking to lease or purchase lots, see the Land Bank’s disposition policy on pages 7-9.

We have been told that the Land Bank stopped entering into new lease agreements in 2020. Continue to check the Land Bank’s website for updates.

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 their 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.

What if the land is held by a public agency other than the Philadelphia Land Bank?

If the land is held by an agency that is not the Land Bank, contact that agency for more information and the relevant district council person for assistance. Sometimes land can be transferred between agencies, but this requires agreement of all interested parties.

Additional information 

Additional information can be found in Garden Justice Legal Initiative’s Vacant Land 215 guide to transforming vacant land in Philadelphia and securing legal access, last updated Feb. 2020.


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

Insurance for Gardens 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.

Philadelphia Building Codes and Permits

Here’s how to follow Philadelphia building code when building a shed or other structure on your community garden or farm.

Make a Land Use Contract with Private Landowner

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.

A Guide to Sheriff Sale in Philadelphia for Community Gardeners

Sheriff’s sales are an important tool for acquiring ownership where a property is burdened with unpaid debt.