Historic preservation easements are legal agreements that protect a significant historic, archaeological, or cultural resource. An easement provides assurance to the owner of a historic or cultural property that the property's intrinsic values will be preserved through subsequent ownership. In addition, the owner may obtain substantial tax benefits.
Under the terms of an easement, a property owner grants a portion of, or interest in, his/her property rights to an organization whose mission includes historic preservation. Once recorded, an easement becomes part of the property's chain of title and usually "runs with the land" in perpetuity, thus binding not only the owner who grants the easement but all future owners as well. In Alaska, several nonprofit organizations will accept preservation easements.
How does an easement work?
In granting an easement, you will still keep your essential interest in the property, except for the rights outlined in the easement document. You can use your remaining interest as you see it. You may live in it, sell it, or give it away subject only to the terms of the easement. Since easements reflect the wishes of the grantor, the property will be protected regardless of who the future owners may be. Should the property be sold, the easement continues to bind the new owner.
Easements clearly define the features to be protected - generally including adjacent open space - and prohibit incompatible uses, such as commercial development, subdivision, or other actions that are determined to be inappropriate (sample easement). Properties and their special characteristics worthy of protection are described in the deed of easement and documented with photographs. As a legal document, the easement is filed in the local land records along with all other legal documents relating to the property.
What are the advantages and benefits of donating an easement?
Many property owners donate easements to ensure that their historic property will be permanently protected from willful destruction, demolition, dismantling, or other inappropriate treatment while at the same time realizing certain tax benefits that accompany such a donation. A donation of an easement can also provide the following financial advantages:
The value of the easement, as determined by a qualified appraisal, can be claimed as a charitable donation deduction from taxable income.
By accepting an easement, the qualified organization makes a commitment to the preservation of the property. The staff of the qualified organization is obligated to inspect easement properties periodically. Such inspections provide good opportunities to provide technical advice to owners.