Historic property owners can also benefit from federal tax deductions through donation of a conservation easement on their structure or site. An easement is a voluntary transfer of some of the rights inherent in property ownership, which allow donors to retain ownership and possession of a historic property while granting a government agency or qualified non-profit organization the authority to protect the historic, cultural, architectural, or archaeological characteristics of the property.
Easements must contain binding and enforceable covenants that run with the land and structure or property and obligate the owner to refrain from actions that are incompatible with the preservation of the property.
Typically, the easement involves the surrender of some right that, as the owner, you would otherwise have, such as the right to modify the exterior or to use adjacent space in a way that might compromise the historic character and integrity of the site.
In granting an easement, you will still keep your essential interest in the property, except for the rights given away 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. When you do sell it, the new property owners are advised to contact our office with their new property ownership information. This will also give them the opportunity to acquire a copy of the scanned easement, and to ask questions about their rights and responsibilities.
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, and the title passes with the assessment in force. Although easement agreements are final, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program allows changes to the property, subject to approval if the easement is donated to the AHPP.
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.
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.
A preservation easement is given to protect and preserve the architectural, historic, or archaeological value of a landmark and its surroundings. It assures the grantor of the easement that the property will not be inappropriately altered or neglected following his or her tenure. It is the best way to protect your investment into rehabilitating a historic property.
Easements are an economical way for the state to ensure protection of its historic resources. Government agencies or conservation organizations normally cannot afford to purchase, maintain, secure, and supervise all the places worthy of preservation. With preservation easements, important sites can be maintained largely or totally without cost to the taxpayer. At the same time, the public benefits from their historic and educational value. As with the protection of endangered species, an important part of Arkansas's heritage is assured of survival.
The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program accepts only those easements that are granted in perpetuity. Once a historic resource is protected by a preservation easement, its survival for future generations is guaranteed.
Each easement accepted by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is negotiated on an individual basis with the property owner.
The staff of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program will help identify and discuss with you the historic elements of your property, as well as your goals, plans, and needs. The terms of the easement are drafted to protect each of these elements as fully as possible.
In the case of a historic building or structure, the AHPP requires some control over the architectural elements of the exterior. The owner must obtain written approval from AHPP before beginning any alterations or additions. As stated above, the restrictions on the land may prohibit or limit subdivision and require that the landscape character of the property be maintained.
In the case of an archaeological site or battlefield, the easement normally stipulates that the owner notify AHPP before undertaking any new disturbance of the soil on the easement property. In this way, staff archaeologists from AHPP can assist in avoiding damage to the site. The easement also frequently requires the owner to take affirmative steps to ensure good farming practices and to protect the site from damage from vandalism and natural causes.
Many donors enter such an agreement to ensure that their 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.
Because an Arkansas preservation easement is perpetual, the donor and all future owners of the property are bound to adhere to its conditions. This can be a welcome guarantee for those who have invested considerable time, money, and love in a historic property. Donation of an easement can in some cases also provide the following tangible 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 AHPP has made a commitment to the preservation of the property. The technical advice and assistance of the staff of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program will be made available to you. The staff can provide literature on preservation techniques, consultants, contractors, and other professionals experienced in working with historic buildings and can answer questions on an individual basis. The staff of the AHPP is obligated to inspect easement properties periodically. Such inspections provide good opportunities to provide technical advice to owners. Staff members are happy to meet with you on site to discuss your concerns and give advice on the most appropriate treatment for the property.
When you are ready to discuss donating an easement, a staff member from the AHPP will make a site visit.
During this visit, the staff member will explain the program and review the standard restrictions. Then you and the staff member can begin to negotiate the terms of the easement and agree on the language of a draft. At an appropriate time, the staff member presents the matter to the AHPP, and the AHPP determines whether to accept the easement, if ultimately offered. The staff always recommends that donors consult their attorneys and have them review the easement document. Following an affirmative determination by the AHPP, the terms of the easement are put in final form. The property is documented photographically with the photographs becoming part of the legal record. Both the owner and the director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program sign the easement deed. It is then recorded in the local court records, and the original document is returned to the AHPP for deposit in agency files.
In order to be eligible for the tax deduction, the property must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places individually or as a contributing component of a National Register historic district. For more information, contact the AHPP.