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Conservation Easements

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PastureA conservation easement is a binding legal agreement which prevents future development and perpetually restricts the use of land to activities which do not degrade its resources.

You can place such protections on your property by simple deed restrictions, but without creation of an easement there is no provision for enforcement. Additionally, there are no tax benefits for a deed restriction, because there is no formal monitoring or enforcement provision. It is our role, as a qualified the land trust, to enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity (forever).

Conservation easements are not the best choice for everyone. We can provide information on other protection options, and can refer you to professionals who specialize in land protection and in tax and estate planning.

 

What Kinds of Properties are Eligible?  IRS and state regulations require that the purpose of a conservation easement be to maintain land in a natural condition for the preservation of wildlife habitat or scenic views, for agricultural/forestry or recreational use, or for conservation of buildings of historic or architectural value. Any property that possesses one or more of these values is potentially eligible.

Would I be Giving up Ownership?  No. The key feature of an easement is that the property remains in private ownership. It can be used for ranching, family residence, or any other activity that is compatible with the conservation goals of the easement. The only uses that are restricted are those outlined within the easement document.

Can I Sell or Mortgage My Property?  Yes. The easement is transferred with title to the property, and is binding on subsequent owners. Lenders must be informed of the easement and must “subordinate” their claim, which means that they accept its provisions. This is necessary because creation of a conservation easement affects the market value of your property.

Do I Have to Allow the Public onto My Property?  No. The only access you must grant is for periodic inspection by the land trust to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met.  Both IRS regulations and the goals of Southern Conservation Trust require that certain uses will always be prohibited, such as mining. Other activities may be compatible with the purposes of an easement for one property, but not for another. For example, grazing would always be part of a farming operation, but it might be excluded on another property where an easement was created to protect a rare plant community. Similarly, logging might be excluded where an easement is intended to protect soil in a watershed, but selective harvesting allowed where the intent is to conserve and diversify wildlife habitat.

Does an Easement have to Include All My Property?  No. Many landowners, particularly those whose only large asset is their land, exclude a portion of the property for future sale or for homesites for family members. Protection of part of your property by easement may increase the value of adjacent building sites.

How Long does an Easement Last?  In short – forever. Only easements “in perpetuity” are recognized by the IRS and the state of Georgia for tax benefits, and only easements in perpetuity are accepted by most land trusts.

What will it Cost Me?  You will need a lawyer, an appraiser, and possibly a financial advisor. You may need an updated property survey. The Trust can refer you to professionals who specialize in conservation easements.

Besides these costs you will be asked to make a donation to the land trust as an endowment for monitoring and enforcement of the easement on your property. These costs may be substantial, but in most cases the amount required is much less than the IRS benefit. Typically the endowment donation is tax deductible.

For landowners who are “land rich and cash poor,” however, the income tax benefit is of little help in offsetting the costs of an easement. In some cases, grant money is available to cover landowner expenses.

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