Questions Commonly Asked about Conservation Easements
- What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a method of protecting our natural resources and preserving scenic open space and natural lands. The landowner who gives an easement gives up most or all of the rights to develop and subdivide the land, now and in the future, but still maintains ownership of the land. The organization accepting the easement agrees to monitor it to ensure compliance with its terms.
- Why do landowners donate conservation easements?
Landowners donate easements as a conservation measure to protect and preserve land from development. Donors often want to ensure that family lands can pass to future generations. There are also potential 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. MET will determine whether preservation of the land would confer a significant public benefit.
- Does the Maryland Environmental Trust accept all easement offers?
Easement offers are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. MET staff members are available to visit potential easement sites and meet with interested landowners. The Board of Trustees and staff are guided by MET policy and the Internal Revenue Code; however, the final decision rests with the Board of Trustees.
- How long does the easement last?
MET easements are perpetual, and apply to all present and future owners of the land. Under Federal tax law, no tax advantages are possible for easements that last only for a limited period of time.
- What are advantages of donating an easement?
For individuals who have strong feelings about preservation of 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 on the land to the owner’s children without paying large estate taxes. Finally, easements may make it difficult or impossible for government to condemn the protected land.
- What are disadvantages of donating an easement?
Because an easement restricts the developmental potential of a property, the market value of the land may be reduced.
- Will an easement grant the public access to my property?
No. The public benefit of conservation easements is usually 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 as with all other land. However, the easement remains on the land and binds all future landowners.
- Can property owners still live on and use the land if they donate an easement?
Yes. For the convenience of the owner, easements usually 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 decide that his parcel does not require this treatment. In this case, he might wish to allow his children 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, and therefore the amount of any tax deduction, varies with the individual easement. Usually, 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. MET 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 local (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. MET monitors easement properties regularly to make sure of compliance.
- Can Conservation Easements be donated by will?
Yes. The landowner should contact the MET in advance, however, to ensure that the MET will accept the gift. It is often better to donate an easement during ones lifetime, since otherwise one loses the income-tax benefits of the donation.
- Is land, which is subject to an easement, immune from condemnation?
A MET easement will protect from condemnation by a local (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 MET easement. As a matter of policy, County and State agencies consult with MET in formulating their plans, and have avoided easement lands in the past.
- Is there a yearly deadline for donating an easement to the Trust?
No. MET accepts requests at all times. However, if you wish to donate an easement during a particular calendar year, you are advised to contact the MET no later than September of that year.