One of the most effective, but often overlooked, tools for preserving historic properties is a preservation easement. An easement is a legal document which regulates changes to or the use of real property and may be given or sold by a property owner to a qualified 501(c)3 non-profit. At present time, Historic Savannah Foundation holds easements on over 400 properties in many of Savannah’s historic neighborhoods. Once recorded, an easement becomes part of the property’s chain of title and ‘runs with the land’ in perpetuity. As such, it binds not only the present owner, but all future owners as well.
A preservation easement grants Historic Savannah Foundation the legal authority to review, regulate, and approve all alterations, repairs, or improvements to a property’s exterior, and at times, certain interior elements. The easement also imposes the requirement that the owner maintain the property in good physical condition at all times. Once a year, HSF staff and a group of interns conduct a physical inspection of all easement properties to ensure they are meeting the established standards. The property owner receives an inspection report with helpful observations and tips included. If the condition of the property has declined to the point of endangering the building, the owner will be given a chance to bring it into compliance. Failing that, the easement grants HSF the right to undertake certain repairs or other measures to correct the issue.
At HSF, all of our preservation easements have either been donated by an owner or were attached to one of our Revolving Fund properties at the time of sale to a preservation minded-buyer. This is to help protect all facades of the historic exterior, occasionally certain interior elements, and the overall integrity of the building.
HSF is a Qualified Organization under the Georgia Conservation Tax Credit Program and has managed its easement program for several decades. HSF holds, monitors and enforces easements and, as a private non-profit organization, is not subject to the decisions of City Council or Historic District Board of Review. This program is not limited to properties within the National Historic Landmark District, so historic properties throughout Savannah and Chatham County are eligible.