What is an easement?
A preservation easement is a binding legal document that provides specific protection for a building (usually the exterior), landscape, or property. An easement ensures that a property is well-maintained and may prohibit changes that are not in keeping with its historic character, including demolition. The easement must be conveyed to the property owner from a qualifying agency. Easements are generally held by nonprofit agencies with missions involving preservation, though occasionally easements are conveyed by municipal, state, or federal entities. A qualifying historic property must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to be placed under easement. While some easements expire after a pre-determined period of time, the majority of preservation easements are made in perpetuity, and will be transferred with the deed to the property should it be sold.
Easements are one of the more effective ways to preserve a historic resource, since they usually have further reach than a local preservation ordinance or landmark law. However, an easement functions as a tool in addition to other protective measures, and the terms of the easement may vary depending on the specific property. While an easement may be placed on a property as part of a real estate transaction, easements are never applied without the owner’s consent and usually are made as a charitable donation. To learn more about preservation easements in general, visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Easements page.
What are the benefits of donating a preservation easement?
An easement serves as a tool to protect a valuable historic resource so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. It obligates both current and future owners to maintain their property in a way that reflects its historic significance.
Although tax benefits are available to certain types of properties, many owners enroll in preservation easement programs solely to ensure the protection of their significant place in perpetuity. Donating an easement to Historic Seattle can result in a federal charitable tax deduction for the donor if the gift meets the IRS standards for easement donation. An easement may also stabilize the value of a property, and can result in property taxes which are lower than the market rate.
In order to donate an easement to Historic Seattle, the property must first be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the property owner, Historic Seattle, and a legal representative agree to the terms of the easement and identify features to be protected, the property must undergo a professional appraisal. After all parties have agreed to the easement terms, the donation itself is accompanied by a stewardship fee to assist Historic Seattle with monitoring of the easement property.
If you are interested in learning more about donating an easement to Historic Seattle, please contact Jeff Murdock, Preservation Advocacy Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does an easement affect my building or property?
Historic Seattle is committed to working collaboratively with owners of easement properties to ensure the building has a relevant and compatible use while retaining its historic character. Easement properties are monitored on an annual basis, and the easement allows Historic Seattle to make recommendations regarding maintenance and treatment of the affected historic features.
Information for current owners of easement properties
If you own a property on which Historic Seattle holds an easement and you wish to make alterations, please first contact Historic Seattle to discuss the proposed project. You must submit the Request for Approval form and receive confirmation of approval prior to beginning any work. Following this process will help you save time and money, and Historic Seattle can assist you in ensuring that the work adheres to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Historic Seattle currently holds over a dozen preservation easements on a variety of Seattle buildings:
Fourteenth Avenue West Houses
Twenty-Third Avenue Houses
Fire Station #18
Fire Station #25
Main Street School