Working With Private Land Owners
A lot of vacant lots in New York City are privately owned. We are starting to work with community groups and private landowners who see the benefits of having a site activated versus sitting abandoned and vacant. Two examples:
The lot that Feedback Farms (a part of A Small Green Patch) is on is owned by a private landlord. It is sandwiched between two publicly owned lots (HPD) to which A Small Green Patch has a license; when they got that license, they contacted the borough president Marty Markowitz's office for help reaching out to the private landowner -- turns out he was friend of Marty's. The private landowner is donating rent for the year and will be getting a thank you letter from our fiscal sponsor that might help on his taxes; he also hasn't gotten a single Sanitation ticket since the creation of the Farm (those were a real problem before) and gets to feel good about how he is contributing. Feedback Farms has a general liability insurance policy that covers farming/gardening activities at the site.
The lot that One Kin Farm is on is also private land. The owner was approached by the lead gardeners on that site, who, building on 596 Acres' experience with A Small Green Patch, offered to carry an insurance policy (which we helped them arrange for free), take care of the lot and give the owner a thank you letter from a 501(c)(3). They also took him on a tour of thriving gardens in the neighborhood and generally charmed him.
The big difference is that when it's a private owner, it really is all about the relationship. If you can get a meeting with them, we can help you figure out how to frame what you can offer. Once you have conversaion, you should put the agreement in writing in the form of permission from the owner. You can see a copy of a simple agreement that was used in Brooklyn recently here or look at another agreement from the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
Here's a great guide to help you think through your potential project on a privately-owned lot by a group in BC, Canada: http://www.shiftinggrowth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Shifting-Growth-Best-Practices.pdf
Get in touch if you know an owner who wants his land used for public good & greening! Here's an article by Carolyn Zezima of NYC Foodscape written for companies managing housing that lays out the steps they can take to incorporate gardens in their projects: https://www.assistedhousinginsider.com/article/take-10-steps-create-successful-community-garden-residents
How do I figure out the actual address of the vacant lot near me?
How do I figure out who has the deed to the land?
After you get some more specific information about the privately owned lot you're looking at, you can use ACRIS. Search Property Records to figure out who was the last person to receive the deed and look at the image of the deed or its details to see contact information for all parties and their attorneys. You can try contacting everyone!
Still having trouble figuring out where to contact the owner?
The most recent tax bill is also a good place to look for a good mailing address; start at the NYC Department of Finance's website and look at the PDFs of the bills to see where they are being sent.
If the owner is a corporation, you can also look them up in the New York State Corporation and Business Entity Database. You can see whether the corporation is currently active or dissolved; you can also see what address the corporation has on file as the place the State can contact it. You can use that address, too!
How do I know much the owner owes in taxes?
What about insurance?
Insurance sounds intimidating but it really isn't. You're just paying a company to carry the risk of anything bad that might happen in the space. Since gardens are pretty simple projects, that risk is not so severe and so insurance doesn't cost that much. The American Community Gardening Association recently created a way for gardens who are members to get individual insurance policies affordably. Details are here.
Take the survey below to let us know what you are up to and join our Google Group to ask your questions to other land access advocates working for access to privately owned vacant lots.
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