How does it work?
Commonly Asked Questions about Conservation Easements
- What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a tool for landowners to protect natural resources and preserve scenic open space. The landowner who gives an easement limits the right to develop and subdivide the land, now and in the future, but still remains the owner. The organization accepting the easement agrees to monitor it forever to ensure compliance with its terms. No public access is required by a conservation easement.
- Why put a conservation easement on your land?
Landowners who want to protect a beloved farm and/or their family's heritage donate conservation easements as a way to prevent their land from becoming developed. There are also tax advantages associated with the donation of an easement.
- What kinds of land can be protected by a conservation easement?
Any land whose conservation is in the public interest - woodland, wetlands, farmland, scenic areas, historic areas, wild and scenic rivers, undisturbed natural areas.
- Does the Maryland Environmental Trust accept all easement offers?
Easement offers are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Trust staff members are available to visit potential easement sites and meet with interested landowners. The final decision rests with the Board of Trustees. If a property does not meet the Trust's guidelines, they will recommend another land trust who may hold the conservation easement.
- How long does the easement last?
Trust easements are perpetual, and apply to all present and future owners of the land.
- What are advantages of donating an easement?
For people who want to preserve their land, an easement will assure that the land will never be used in a way contrary to their intent. Financial benefits in the form of tax deductions are also associated with easements. Easements often make it much easier to pass the land to the owner's children without paying large estate taxes.
- What are disadvantages of donating an easement?
Because an easement restricts development of a property, the market value of the land may be reduced.
- Will an easement grant the public access to my property?
No. Public benefits of an easements are only derived from scenic views of the land from public roads or waterways.
- Who owns land that is under an easement? Can it be sold?
The landowner who donated the easement remains the owner of the land. The land can be bought and sold. However, the easement "runs with the land" and applies to all future landowners.
- Can property owners still live on and use the land if they donate an easement?
Yes. Easements typically allow for changes and additions to houses, construction of farm buildings, and other normal agricultural practices.
Easements may be drafted in various ways. For example, some landowners decide that, for the protection of the land, all development rights should be excluded, so that the land will always look substantially as it does now. Another might wish to allow the option of adding a limited number of future dwellings.
- How much is the gift of an easement worth?
The value of an easement gift varies with each easement. Generally, the more the easement restricts the uses of the property, the higher the value of the gift, and hence the higher the tax deduction.
To determine the easement value, the land must be appraised at both its fair market value without the easement restrictions, and its fair market value with the easement restrictions. The difference between these two appraisals is the easement value, from which the tax deductions are derived.
The Trust does not do appraisals, but maintains lists of known appraisers.
- How do future owners of a property know that an easement exists?
The easement is recorded in the Land Records of the county government. Any title search (generally done when land changes hands) will therefore reveal the existence of the easement.
Even if future property owners are unaware of the existence of the easement, they remain legally bound by it. The Trust monitors easement properties regularly to make sure of compliance.
One of the Maryland Environmental Trust's largest responsibilities is to make sure the terms of a conservation easement are followed by future owners of the easement property. The key to this long-term stewardship is monitoring. MET monitors the easements it holds by inspecting properties on a regular basis. Landowners always receive advance notice of a visit and interiors of buildings are not monitored. If we discover the terms of an easement are not being followed, MET will attempt to work with the landowner to correct the problem. If the problem is still not corrected, MET has the right to enforce the easement through the legal system. When an easement is held jointly with a local land trust, that organization shares the monitoring and enforcement duties with MET.
- Can Conservation Easements be donated by will?
Yes. The landowner should contact the Trust in advance, however, to ensure that the Trust will accept the gift. It is often better to donate an easement during one's lifetime, since otherwise one loses the income-tax benefits of the donation.
- Is land, which is subject to an easement, immune from condemnation?
A Maryland Environmental Trust easement will protect from condemnation by a municipal or county government. Legal research indicates that it will also protect from condemnation by the State, barring an express act of the Legislature. The Federal Government, however, can condemn a Trust easement.
- Is there a yearly deadline for donating an easement to the Trust?
No. The Trust accepts requests at all times. However, if you wish to donate an easement during a particular calendar year, please contact the Trust no later than September of that year.