So you’re a renter and you want to plant a tree

First you’ll want to weigh your options when considering planting a tree.

Option one: You already have access to green space in your building. You may even already garden there. It is still a good idea to have a conversation about planting a tree because trees live a long time! Are you still planning on living in that apartment 20 – 50 years from now? If not, you need to make sure your landlord knows and agrees to the long term maintenance of the trees. – Have a conversation (see below).

Option two: There is green space at your building but it is not currently being used. – Have a conversation (see below).

Option three: You live in a large building with lots of space for trees. Speak with the property managers about their plans for tree planting. If they don’t know about NYRP’s tree giveaway program and tree delivery program – let them know!

Option four: You live in at a NYCHA campus. NYCHA residents please contact Lee Trotman .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Assistant Director of Resident Engagement to see what options are available for tree planting.

Option five: You want to plant trees in a community garden. Are you a member of that community garden? If so, bring it up at your next meeting! If not, start a conversation with garden members and let them know how to pick up a free tree. – Have a conversation (see below).

Option six: You want to plant trees in an empty lot. Check out 596 Acres map of NYC city owned vacant land. Or find out who the owner of the lot is using Oasis. Once you know who the owner is try contacting them – Send a letter (see below).

Remember to request a street tree planting by calling 311 or visiting 311 online. 

Next, assess the best approach to take and create a proposal:

Start with a conversation*

  • A brief description of your proposal for the land, including any community or economic benefit (e.g., reduce cooling and heating costs, increase property value, strengthen community ties through garden plots; donations of produce to food banks or building residents);
  • Your willingness to pay for water, obtain any necessary liability insurance, and leave the property as you found it, should you move;
  • An offer to provide a more detailed proposal along with personal references;
  • Your gratitude for their consideration.

Write a letter*

Write a one page letter that includes the following:

  • Who you are
  • A brief description of your proposal for the land, including any benefits (e.g., reduce cooling and heating costs, increase property value, strengthen community ties through garden plots; donations of produce to food banks or building residents);
  • A proposal to lease the land for free or for a comfortable price;
  • Your willingness to pay for water, obtain any necessary liability insurance, and leave the property as you found it should you move;
  • An offer to provide a more detailed proposal along with personal references;
  • Your contact information;
  • Your gratitude for their consideration.

Create a proposal*

If they respond, write a letter or e-mail proposing a meeting. Include a proposal that describes the following:

  • Your ideas for the land, including a layout diagram and any benefits;
  • The minimum amount of time you are willing to use the land; for example, that you would like to use the property for at least three years, with a provision for renewing your agreement on a year – to year, basis (any less time, e.g. three months, isn’t worth your while);
  • What you will do if and when you leave the land  ( e.g., cleanup; restoring; finding a qualified successor);
  • Who will have access to the property;
  • Options for how the water bill would be paid (e.g.; either by transferring it to your name or by arranging to pay the owner); your willingness to obtain liability insurance , including a possible provider and/or organization name and contact information;
  • Character and/or professional references

If the owner agrees to your using the property, create an agreement:*

  • Negotiate an agreement in writing.
  • Ideally meet in person to hammer out the details
  • Create a written document for signing. It’s not necessary to involve a lawyer, but you may want to have it reviewed by one.

If necessary, set up the payment system for the utilities:*

  • There should be easy ways to communicate about and pay the water bill.
  • DEP operates a Customer Call Center which can be reached at 718-595-7000, Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm and Saturday, 9am to 2pm. You may choose to visit one of our borough offices, open weekdays from 9am to 5pm.
  • Have the landlord send you quarterly copies with your portion noted.

* *Text excerpted from The Essential Urban Farmer (c) Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal, with permission.

*Photo by Emily Bachman, tree giveaway participant, on Twitter