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Historic Preservation Easements

A historic preservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that protects a significant historic, archaeological, or cultural resource. This agreement creates a preservation interest that is held by an authorized federal, state or local organization with specialized knowledge in historic preservation. It gives the holder of the preservation interest the authority to review and approve physical improvements to the property to ensure that modifications are compatible with the preservation of the historic resource and, in the case of archaeological sites, the ability to protect them from unauthorized disturbance.

Preservation interests held by the federal government and the Commission are executed in exchange for financial compensation such as a federal or state funded historic preservation grant or in response to a federal or state undertaking that affects an historic property. Preservation interests held by authorized local historic preservation organizations may yield positive federal, state and local tax benefits.

For more information on historic preservation easements, visit the National Park Service website.

Preservation Interests with Tax Benefits

Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h) and Department of the Treasury Regulation Section 1.170A-14 provide for income and estate tax deductions for charitable contributions of partial interests in historic property (principally easements). The Tax Reform Act of 1986 retained these provisions. Generally, the IRS considers that a donation of a qualified real property interest to preserve a historically important land area or a certified historic structure meets the test of a charitable contribution for conservation purposes. For purposes of the charitable contribution provisions only, a certified historic structure need not be depreciable to qualify, may be a structure other than a building and may also be a portion of a building such as a façade, if that is all that remains, and may include the land area on which it is located.

The IRS definition of historically important land areas includes:

  • Independently significant land areas, including any related historic resources that meet National Register Criteria for Evaluation;
  • Land areas within registered historic districts, including buildings, that contribute to the significance of the historic district; and,
  • Land areas adjacent to a property individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places (but not within a historic district) where physical or environmental features of the land area contribute to the historic or cultural integrity of the historic property.

Federal Historic Preservation Grants

Save America’s Treasures Funding

This program provides funding to assist the preservation and conservation of nationally significant historic sites and collections across the country. It is managed by the National Park Service, and funded projects involving historic properties are subject to term preservation covenants held by the Commission.

Historic Preservation Fund Grants

When funding levels permit, the Commission may award grants from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Historic Preservation Fund to eligible entities for the preservation or restoration of historic buildings, structures, objects or sites. As a condition of the grant, Commission receives a term preservation interest in such properties.

Federal Surplus Property Program

Federal agencies are required by law to try to reuse their historic properties. If these properties cannot be reused, then they may be transferred to states, localities, or non-profit organizations. If these organizations cannot use such properties, then they may be sold to the general public. If applicable, protective preservation covenants are established prior to the transfer or sale of such properties. In Maine, these covenants are held by the Commission in perpetuity.

Historic Preservation Grants

New Century Program Grants

A condition placed on recipients of New Century Community Program Historic Preservation grants is that the Commission receives a term preservation interest in the form of either a Stewardship Agreement or Preservation Agreement.

Other State Preservation Interests

Archaeological Site Easements

The Commission holds easements on privately owned archaeological sites pursuant to 33 MRSA § §1551-1555.

Surplus State Historic Properties

The State Bureau of General Services, in consultation with the Commission, determines on a case by case basis when a preservation interest will be placed on surplus state historic properties. These preservation interests are either term or in perpetuity and are held by the Commission.

Easement Holding Organizations

For a more complete listing of organizations that hold preservation easements download the Directory of Historic Preservation Easement Holding Organizations (PDF, requires the free Acrobat Reader) from the NPS website.