The City of Pittsburgh has roughly 13,000 city-owned vacant lots available for purchase. But how to start the process of buying that property can be complicated. Here’s a simple, step-by-step look at how to buy one. (You can also scroll down to the flow-chart below.)
1. Find the address. Once you know the vacant lot’s address, you can call the city’s Department of Real Estate at 412-255-2300, look online or visit the office in person, in the City County Building Downtown. (If it is owned by a private individual, go to step 2. If it is owned by the city, go to step 5).
2. If it is owned by a private individual, find out if the property is current on taxes. If yes, you have to wait for it to accrue at least $300 in back taxes and become delinquent.
3. Once the property is delinquent on taxes, you can request it be included in the city’s next treasurer's sale. They happen four times a year.
4. You can bid! If you have the highest bid at the treasure sale, it is yours. If someone else bids on the property and wins, they own it. If no one bids, it becomes owned by the city. Keep following the steps below to purchase directly from the city.
5. The property is now owned by the city and you must submit a “request to purchase” application. The price will depend on the location and the size of the lot.
6. If you owe any outstanding bills or back taxes, your application will likely be rejected. You can pay them and resubmit your application. If you’re current on all bills and taxes and meet other requirements, such as not having any building code violations on your existing property, you’ll likely be approved.
7. Once your application is approved, you need to determine if you’re buying a side lot or individual property. (Go to the next step for individual property, skip to step 9 for a side lot).
8. An individual property means that it’s not bordering your existing property and is buildable. In order to start the process, you must put down 10 percent of the property’s value or at least $200.
9. A side lot means it’s a property bordering one you already own, is less than 5,000 square feet and is not buildable. To start the process, you must put down $201 -- $200 as money down and $1 to start a “lease.” During side lot sales, the interested buyer must pay $1 per month until the sale is finalized in order to lease the property from the city.
10. Once you’ve put money down, they city will write legislation that must be approved by city council. If an individual council member doesn't want you to buy the property—perhaps, for example, you are known as a bad landlord—he or she can "delete" the property and it will go back onto the city's list of properties for sale, Otherwise it’ll be approved. (Go to next step for individual property and skip to step 12 for a side lot).
11. In the case of an individual property, you must get the title report from the law department, who will then get the deed. Congratulations! You're now the owner of a formerly city-owned vacant property.
12. In the case of a side lot, you must prove you have homeowner’s insurance. Once you’ve proven you have homeowner’s insurance, city council will look over the legislation once again.
13. Once approved, you’ll need to pay $162 in closing fees, $1 for each month of your lease and the taxes on the property.
14. After all of the fees are paid, the law department will get the deed and congrats, you’re the new owner of a formerly city-owned side lot.