As Rethos celebrated its 40th birthday last year, we wanted to draw attention to our oldest program: Easements. Since 1986, Rethos (then the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota), has held preservation easements on historic buildings in Minnesota. This preservation tool keeps buildings in good condition and prevents against demolition.
What is an Easement?
An easement is a restriction on the property that transfers the rights to certain features to another entity that isn’t the property owner. For old buildings, this pertains to certain aspects of the buildings design – like the building’s facade – but can also apply to the property’s landscape and the building’s interior. Preservation easements typically restrict certain activities on the property, for example, demolition of the building, storing of trash or debris, or any use that would alter the view or experience of the building’s architectural design. They are recorded with the title of the property and run with the land in perpetuity. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the certain values of the property are preserved and maintained as the property changes hands for (in theory) forever.
Why would someone want one?
Property owners are motivated to place easements on their property for several reasons. With the end goal to preserve the property in perpetuity, a property owner may want to ensure that their building is protected against development pressures where there aren’t any other protections. For example, a building that falls outside of a city with a historic preservation ordinance. Another scenario might be a homeowner who restored their house and wants to protect their work after they eventually sell their home. Additionally, certain tax advantages accompany the donation of an easement to a qualifying organization (like Rethos), where the value of the easement (as determined by an appraiser) can be taken as a tax deduction by the property owner.
How does one put an easement on their property?
Rethos recently redefined the process for accepting easements. The first stage is the pre-application phase where Rethos staff work with a property owner to obtain due diligence items to make a determination of whether or not Rethos would be interested in accepting the easement. This isn’t a guarantee for whether or not Rethos would accept the easement, but rather a preliminary determination about the property and its alignment with Rethos’ values and mission. The next stage is kicked off after an application fee is paid to Rethos in order to create the easement document, document the property, complete necessary title work, and prepare the application for our easement committee to review. The easement committee will consist of volunteer members from outside of Rethos with expertise in historic preservation and real estate. The easement committee will make a recommendation to Rethos’ board of directors for the final approval of the easement. After final approval the easement will be recorded.
What kind of properties?
Rethos is open to all kinds of properties interested in easements. Our current portfolio ranges from single family homes to downtown commercial buildings, and even includes a farmstead and a former post office. Certain tax benefits of an easement donation require the property to be a certified historic property according to the IRS. Property owners may have various motivations for donating an easement and are willing to do so without a tax benefit and with a property that doesn’t have any designation status. Rethos is open to talking with any property owner about potential easements, however, please contact your accountant or lawyer to get the full breadth of potential tax advantages of an easement.
If you are interested in learning more about Rethos’ easement program, please contact Rethos’ Director of Real Estate, Ethan Boote.