Preserving Places in Perpetuity

Since 1981, Restore Oregon has been administering its Historic Conservation Easement Program. Recognized nationally, Restore Oregon currently protects 47 historic properties throughout the state of Oregon. Under current Oregon law, the only way an owner of an historic property can ensure the preservation and protection of their property in perpetuity is through the donation of a historic conservation easement (sometimes known as a preservation easement). A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement to protect a historic property from activities that may harm the property’s integrity, including neglect, demolition, and insensitive alterations. With a full-time staff member administering the program and an easement committee filled with experts in the field of historic preservation, Restore Oregon is fully equipped to lead a successful and sustainable easement program.

What is a historic conservation easement?

A conservation easement allows the owner of a historic property to retain title and use of a property and, at the same time, ensure its long-term preservation. An easement is a legal contract by which the owner agrees to maintain the property according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Adhering to these Standards ensures that a building’s integrity, value, and historic context are preserved. It may also include surrounding property and landscape features. The easement, usually granted in perpetuity, is filed in the county land records and binds the current owner as well as all subsequent owners. The owner retains a major interest in the property and can sell it or will it to whomever he or she wishes.

Because each property is unique, conservation easements are individually written and tailored to each property, defining the precise elements that are to be preserved. Protected features may include the facade, interior, grounds, view sheds, or air rights. Any number of features may be included according to the specifics of the property in question; those listed above are some of the more common details.

Why give a Conservation Easement?

People grant easements for a variety of reasons, from personal gain through tax benefits to community improvement through the permanent preservation of a significant structure. Some reasons for giving a conservation easement may include:

  • Protection of a donor’s personal interest in preserving their family’s heritage and home.
  • Preservation of a building on which an owner has spent considerable time and resources restoring.
  • Provision of tax savings for the property owner.
  • Reduction in estate, gift and capital gains taxes.
  • Improvement of one’s community through long-term preservation of a significant landmark.

A significant, but often overlooked, benefit of a conservation easement is long-term professional assistance with technical preservation issues.

Who Can Donate an Easement?

Any fee simple owner of a historic property may give an easement. This includes any public, private or nonprofit owner of an historic property.

How Long Does an Easement Last?

Most easements are given in perpetuity. According to the IRS, if an easement is not granted into perpetuity the donor is not eligible for tax deductions.

What is Restore Oregon's Role with Easement Properties?

Once an easement is placed on a building, Restore Oregon conducts annual monitoring of its easement properties to ensure the easement requirements are being upheld and proper maintenance of the building is occurring. Owners of easement properties must allow Restore Oregon to access the property during this annual monitoring.

Restore Oregon has grant approval of proposed projects as permissible within the restrictions of a specific easement. This can include: windows, doors, siding material, architectural details and in certain instances, can even include paint color and/or landscape features. Restore Oregon has adopted the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties which it uses to review proposed alterations. The Preservation standard “places a high premium on the retention of all historic fabric through conservation, maintenance and repair. It reflects a building’s continuum over time, through successive occupancies, and the respectful changes and alterations that are made.”

Restore Oregon has an experienced, dedicated, and professional staff, knowledgeable about easements and historic properties to assist with proposed alteration applications and assisting property owners with routine maintenance advice. Restore Oregon can also connect owners with preservation professional consultants and other professionals with experience working on historic structures to conduct proposed alterations.