Dear PoPville – Tracking down the owner of a vacant lot for a Community Garden?

by Prince Of Petworth June 19, 2014 at 2:30 pm 15 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user johnmcochran2012

Dear PoPville,

I having been renting in Petworth for about a year in a group house with friends from all over the country. I live between two row houses occupied by families, and both have active gardens in the summertime.

This year I decided I wanted to build a raised bed and start my own. While spending a lot of time in the backyard gardening, I noticed that there are two enormous lots that appear to just be sitting there with no one using or tending to them. I think they belong to the city, but I haven’t been able to confirm this… If there is interest amongst my neighbors and the community, I am thinking about submitting a proposal to DPR to start a community garden. I also have a friend who started and managed a community garden that I will reach out to to get advice and pointers.

Any ideas on where I should get started on tracking down the owner of the land? Zillow and Google Maps have not been helpful thus far.

This is potentially really good timing, if District owned, as Council Member’s Cheh and Grosso have have just introduced legislation to encourage community farming on vacant lots –

“An Bill To amend the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program Act of 1986 to establish an urban farming land leasing initiative; to establish a nonrefundable tax credit for food commodity donations made to a District of Columbia food bank or shelter; and to establish a real property tax abatement for unimproved real property leased for the purpose of small-scale urban farming.”

You can read the full bill here – D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014

If the lot is privately owned – any suggestions on how to track down the owner? Would guerrilla gardening be worth a shot?

  • does the OTR’s real property assessment database not include vacant lots? https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/RP_Search.jsp?search_type=Assessment

    • crin


      Type in the address or navigate to it on the map and click the lot. Select the Property Tax Data tab under the map. You’ll find all info including owner and owner’s contact address.

  • Daniel

    Perhaps try the property tax records? With only the address, you can determine the owner, tax rate, view previous tax bills, previous sale, etc.

  • ForsterDC

    Two Steps: enter the address on this website to get the Lot and Square Number: http://maps.dcoz.dc.gov/

    Then, use that Lot and Square Number on the Recorder of Deeds to find the most recent owner. It may be an LLC that would be hard to track down, but it’s worth a shot: https://gov.propertyinfo.com/dc-washington/?#

  • Anonymous

    Look up the property owner at the DC PIVS website.


    If you’re having trouble tracking down the exact address, you can also look up the square and suffix in map form at the DC atlas


    On the right, select “DC property basemap”, zoom in and find the square/suffix/lot (e.g., the giant in Columbua heights in Square 2837, lot 79)

  • bea

    Input the address, if you can locate it, into OTR’s real property tax database – https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/RP_Search.jsp?search_type=Assessment

  • Anonymous

    Check the DC tax records… should give you the owners name and mailing address.

  • Nope

    YES PLEASE more info about this. I too live next to a vacant lot (in NoMa) and would love to see a community garden in there!

  • Anonymous

    You can look up the owner using the OTR real property assessment database and/or PIVS and send the owner a letter or other notification. If it’s owned by DC, you’ll have to figure out which agency has control and go from there.

  • anon

    If you know the property address, you can use the tax assessor’s property database to find ownership info (usually provides the owner’s name and mailing address…might be a starting point): https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/RP_Search.jsp?search_type=Assessment

  • EH

    This tool: http://atlasplus.dcgis.dc.gov/ will let you look up the actual lot numbers you would need to look up the owners here: https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/RP_Search.jsp?search_type=Assessment. (assuming the lots don’t have proper street addresses). The former site is pretty cumbersome – you have to use layers – but I managed recently to fool around enough to figure out the lot ID for a similar empty lot in Petworth.

  • mgilmore

    you can try: http://atlasplus.dcgis.dc.gov/
    this includes property records from OTR.

  • nc3

    Make sure you test the soil for lead!

    • anon

      Lead in the soil is not necessarily a deal killer. Generally, it is not absorbed much into fruiting veggies but is absorbed more into leafy veggies. It also helps minimize lead absorption if you keep ph > 6.5.

  • Anonymous

    This is the most user friendly (it’s not without it’s problems) search tool I’ve found, just zoom to the property and click on the property and then select the second tab


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