What is a Conservation Easement?
A Conservation Easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization that allows the landowner’s wishes for their land to be permanently enforced on future owners of the land. Allowable uses and prohibitions on a particular parcel of land are negotiated between the owner and conservation organization. Once agreement is reached, the restrictions are signed by both parties and recorded in a deed at the county recorder’s office.
After a Conservation Easement is granted, the conservation group and landowner cooperate to monitor the land on a regular basis to make sure that the restrictions are being honored. When ownership of the land transfers (either to the next generation of the family or to a buyer) the restrictions remain in force, and the conservation group has the legal right to enforce the restrictions if needed.
Why create a Conservation Easement?
People most often grant Conservation Easements because they love the land. They want their family land to remain as it is so that their family and others can continue to enjoy the property and the many benefits provided by open space.
In addition to the satisfaction of preserving land for the future, federal law provides an income tax incentive (and in some cases a federal estate tax deduction) for conserving land. Section 170 (h) of the IRS code makes the donation of a Conservation Easement tax deductible if the land, the conservation easement, and the conservation organization meet certain criteria. A conservation easement may also result in a reduction in property taxes.
While there are complicated regulations and exceptions, in general a conservation easement is tax deductible if it meets three criteria. It must be:
- Granted in perpetuity
- To a qualified conservation organization
- Exclusively for conservation purposes.
It is worth noting that public access to land is NOT REQUIRED for conservation easements. The land remains private and access to the property is still controlled by the landowner.
Purposes of an Easement
Valid conservation purposes include, among other things, preserving a relatively natural habitat for fish, wildlife and plants, or preserving open space such as farmland when such preservation is done pursuant to a clearly delineated Federal, State, or local governmental conservation policy, and will yield a significant public benefit, or for the scenic enjoyment of the general public. Land that meets these requirements may be eligible for a tax deductible Conservation Easement, but often conservation organizations have their own criteria and interpretations of what acceptable conservation purposes are for their organization.
How We Can Help
There are many technical requirements in the federal tax code, the IRS regulations, in Ohio law, and in the processes used by conservation groups, but Holland & Muirden attorneys have been through many Conservation Easement transactions and can make the process easily understandable for landowners wishing to explore the possibility of preserving their land and gaining a federal income tax deduction.