Maine has many historic properties that reflect the history and character of our amazing state. The variety of buildings of historic and architectural importance, as well as stone walls, bridges, open fields, and garden landscapes, distinguish Maine from other states and remind us of our past. Preserving these features ensures that community character is protected and that our heritage is preserved for us and future generations.
Do you own one of these special properties? What will happen when your property changes ownership? Will it be developed? Respected? Preserved? Demolished? A preservation easement is a resource you might consider to protect your special property.
Questions and Answers on Easements
What is a Preservation Easement?
A preservation easement is a voluntary, non-governmental, legal agreement entered into by a property owner to ensure that the historic architectural and landscape qualities of a property will not be destroyed. An owner grants the responsibility to protect the historic property to Maine Preservation, but does not transfer ownership. A preservation easement is filed with the deed of the property, protecting it forever. Preservation easements protect historic properties similarly to how conservation easements protect land and natural resources. Since many historic properties are located in important natural settings, conservation and historic preservation easements can be combined to ensure the protection of all historic and natural features of your property.
What does a preservation easement protect?
Each easement is tailored specifically for each individual property to protect the historic features the donor or owner wishes to protect. What you want to preserve can be written into the easement. Easements can allow for continued and new uses of a building, prohibit development, allow for additions, and apply to all or a portion of the property. An ongoing goal is to have protected buildings in active use. We want the property to be a functional, habitable space, so changes are allowed as long as essential historic features are not eliminated.
How do easements work?
After customizing your easement to protect the areas you wish, you donate the easement to Maine Preservation. Easements are legally enforceable documents. You have given Maine Preservation the ability to protect your property, which we will do by enforcing the agreed upon terms. The easement is filed with the deed of the property. It stays with the property forever, ensuring that Maine Preservation can protect the historic integrity of your building forever.
How does an easement work with owners?
Owners agree to:
· Follow the terms of the easement
· Maintain the property according to easement guidelines
· Plan for annual visits with Maine Preservation
· Consult with or acquire approval from Maine Preservation for proposed changes
What are Maine Preservation’s responsibilities?
Maine Preservation is responsible for enforcing the terms of the easement forever. Maine Preservation maintains a stewardship fund to ensure that it can fulfill this role. Maine Preservation is responsible for:
· Documenting baseline features and conditions
· Conducting annual site visits, updating a conditions assessment, and providing written recommendations
· Reviewing proposed changes and providing technical advice
· Monitoring for violations and enforcing easement terms
· Defending the easement in court, if necessary
So, why consider an easement?
Unless you have an easement, your property is not guaranteed indefinite protection. Being listed in the National Register of Historic Places does NOT offer your property protection. Historic Neighborhood and District guidelines only protect so much, and covenants often do not have the ability to protect a property after ownership change. An easement is the only legally enforceable method of protecting your property forever.
Benefits of an easement:
· Peace of mind that your property will remain intact
· Access to professional historic building and design expertise
· Potential reduction in property tax
· Potential to qualify for federal income tax deduction
Will your easement qualify for tax incentives?
Federal law provides a charitable income tax deduction for an easement on properties that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and are not protected in a local historic district. The amount of deduction depends on your own tax circumstances and on an independent appraisal that looks at the property value before and after the easement. Maine Preservation can help guide you through the charitable tax deduction process. We also recommend that you seek independent tax counsel in order to evaluate your individual circumstances.