New Law Helps Philadelphia Gardeners Claim Ownership of Vacant Lots

Gardening© halfpoint / Canva

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Governor Josh Shapiro signed SB 645 into law on Monday, making it easier for community gardeners to claim legal ownership of vacant lots they have maintained in Philadelphia. The bill, sponsored by Senator Vincent Hughes, received broad bipartisan support, passing the Senate on June 27 and the House on July 1.

Shortening the Path to Ownership

The new law reduces the required occupation period from 21 years to 10 years under the doctrine of adverse possession. This doctrine allows individuals to gain ownership of abandoned property they have continuously used and occupied. For the new law to apply, the vacant lots must be privately owned, contain no permanent structures, and have been used as gardens for at least five of those 10 years.

Advocacy and Support

The passage of SB 645 marks a significant victory for community garden and urban agriculture advocates in Philadelphia. Organizations like the Public Interest Law Center, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Neighborhood Gardens Trust, the Brewerytown Garden, and WeConservePA supported this legislation.

“Many Philadelphia community gardens face the threat of being kicked off vacant land they’ve taken care of for many years—lots that would otherwise sit abandoned in the middle of their neighborhoods,” said Ryan Gittler-Muñiz, environmental justice organizer for the Public Interest Law Center. “This is a real step forward that recognizes the profound contributions that people who built these spaces have made for our city.”

Legal Framework and Historical Context

The Public Interest Law Center played a crucial role in developing the legal framework for SB 645 after hearing from gardeners about the challenges of meeting the 21-year requirement. The concept of adverse possession, which dates back thousands of years, acknowledges the efforts of those who care for abandoned property.

“With this law, Pennsylvania recognizes that those who have stewarded neglected land in Philadelphia for a decade or more have earned the chance to be recognized as its owners,” said Sarah Kang, staff attorney for the Public Interest Law Center. “This will lead to a cleaner and greener city.”

Benefits for the Community

The legislation aims to secure and protect land that Philadelphians have used to grow healthy food and create safe green spaces. Jenny Greenberg, executive director for Neighborhood Gardens Trust, emphasized the importance of this new tool. “This legislation provides an important tool to secure and protect land cared for by Philadelphians to grow healthy food and enjoy safe green spaces in communities across Philadelphia,” she said.

SB 645 represents a landmark shift in how Philadelphia’s community gardens can ensure their permanence. By shortening the occupation period required for ownership, the law supports local efforts to transform vacant lots into vibrant green spaces and underscores the value of community stewardship in urban environments.

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