Get Permission to Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia

A 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

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 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. When you find the lot you are interested in, select “express interest.” Fill out the form, and select “community garden” when you are asked how you will use the property. If you are seeking access to a piece of land to garden on for yourself only, and if that land is near your home (on the same block), you should select “individual garden.”

In your expression of interest, include basic information about your garden, such as how long it has used the land and how many people participate. In addition, include whether you are seeking to gain permanent ownership through a sale or secure legal access through a lease agreement.

Important: expressing interest in a property does NOT guarantee that you will be able to gain legal access to it from the Land Bank. There may be many other groups and individuals interested in the same lot. The Land Bank will reach out to you with further instructions if they may be able to distribute legal access to the land to your garden.

For more detailed information on the Land Bank’s policies on community gardens, see their disposition policy. The relevant section begins on page 8 under “Open Space Programs.”

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

717-787-1057

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 detail on the requirements for community gardens looking to lease or purchase lots, see the Land Bank’s disposition policy on page 12.

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. For more information on requirements for gardens seeking to purchase vacant land from the Land Bank, see page 11 of the disposition policy

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 information is accurate as of 2013 when Grounded in Philly was first launched; however, some information may have changed since then. Although The Public Interest Law Center works to make sure the information on the website is accurate and up to date, and has fixed inaccuracies that have come to our attention, we make no claim as to the accuracy of all of this information. We recommend that you consult with a licensed attorney if you want assurance that the information on the website and your interpretation of it are appropriate for your particular situation. We are continuing to improve Grounded in Philly’s accuracy and usefulness.

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.