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Easements as a Tool for Preservation


Here in Boston there are a few ways we can protect a building or other historic resource. If it is historically significant regionally or nationally, it may be designated a local Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Or, if the whole area is significant, it can be part of a local Landmark District. 
But how can an individual property owner protect a house or commercial building other than Landmarking? Preservation easements, sometimes called restrictions, might be an option. 
What is a preservation easement?

A preservation easement is a legal agreement used to protect significant building and landscape features of a historic property. The property owner (easement donor) and a qualified preservation organization (easement holder) like Historic New England sign a legal document, recorded with local land records, that gives the easement holder certain rights and responsibilities associated with perpetual protection. Easements can be written to protect specific features both inside and outside a building or within the landscape including staircases, fireplaces, historic wallpaper, and early hardware as well as fences, stone walls, and open space. 
How does it work?
Qualified staff at the organization that holds the easement will work with the property owner to complete the easement process. They will discuss what historic features should be protected. When the easement if finalized, a preservation professional will visit the site, usually annually, to monitor compliance with the language of the easement. Preservation easements do not prevent the sale or lease of a historic property or hinder estate planning. 
Could I still update my house under an easement?
Generally, preservation easements do not require a homeowner to receive approval for completing basic maintenance of their home, such as painting or minor repairs. For projects that may affect protected features of the home, the professional staff works with the property owner to make sure their needs are met without removing or damaging those features. 
Does it cost anything to put a preservation easement on my property?
Yes, there are fees associated with preservation easements. Most easement holders require a contribution to an endowment or other types of fees in order to maintain the professional staff to oversee the easement in perpetuity. The amount depends on the scope of the easement and could potentially be funded as part of a project proposal through the Community Preservation Act

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