Make a Land Use Contract with Private Landowner

Reaching an agreement to turn vacant land into community green space

One of the fastest and easiest ways to get access to land can be through an agreement with a private owner, if you know or are able to find the owner of the vacant lot.  As in any land use agreement, defining the terms of use is very important. These terms are meant to define the rights and responsibilities of both parties: the landowner and the gardener or farmer.

Important Elements of a Private Land Use Agreement:

When developing a land use contract with a private landowner, make sure both you and the landowner are in agreement about what piece of land the agreement covers, how you will be using the land, and other important factors.

Land: Specifications of size and location

Use of Land: Specification of uses and by whom

Term: Duration of use, how to renew the agreement, and farm’s rights if land is sold mid-season

Right of Entry: Who is allowed to enter the property. Will this property be a farm or garden that only workers and volunteers will use, or will it be a public space?

Work Schedule: Days and times of most farming activities with exceptions by landowner permissions

Growing Practices: Farmers’ use of tools/machinery and landowner’s responsibility to restrict activities like use of chemicals in order to maintain the farm’s organic standards.

Water Usage: Clarification of source, use, and payment

Garden Maintenance: Specifies responsibilities of landowner and farmer in maintenance of plot

Garden Produce: Clarification of ownership of produce from the land

Compost: Agreement on use and location of compost pile and perhaps use of landowner’s acceptable yard and kitchen wastes

Payment: Type and amount of payment to the landowner for use of the land; can be monetary or in-kind through share of crops

Liability: Ideally, a two-way release of liability. Both the landowner and gardens/framers give indemnity, or exemption from legal responsibility, to the other over specific scenarios and responsibilities for their respective uses of the land.  Some landowners will require garden groups to acquire liability insurance. The American Community Garden Association provides one option, offering affordable liability insurance policies for its members. For more information on liability insurance, see our resource page on insurance [link to legal resources page].

The majority of these terms were gathered from Alymer Backyard Farms’s Land Use Agreement and adapted for use on, maintained by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC).The Sustainable Economies Law Center has developed a sample agreement, which is available here.

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.

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.

Get Permission to Use the Land From the City of Philadelphia

Learn more about how to license, lease, and purchase land from the City of Philadelphia and its various agencies.