What is a Historic Preservation Easement?
A historic preservation easement is a voluntary legal deed agreement, which permanently protects a significant historic property. At some point in the past, you or a previous owner of your property placed certain restrictions on the property and transferred these restrictions to a non-profit organization called Easements Atlanta, Inc. (EAI), which enforces this agreement to preserve the facade of the building. In return, the property owner most likely received one-time tax benefits to help cover costs to rehabilitate and/or maintain the property. Some tax benefits are carried forward to new owners, such as lowered property tax assessments or cash reserves for condominium conversion. Because of this easement, your property will be preserved as part of Atlanta’s architectural heritage for you and future generations to enjoy.
Maintaining the property
Specific easement agreement restrictions ensure protection of your property’s historic character, thus your building needs to be well-maintained and alterations need pre-approval. Once a year, EAI inspects the outside of your building. A letter that describes its overall condition and any needed repairs or maintenance is sent your condominium association. Most repairs can be completed within a year or before the next inspection, whichever comes first. Occasionally, an urgent repair – one that threatens the structure – will need to be done more quickly.
Requests for alterations
In the easement agreement, an owner commits to preserving the property’s historic appearance. This includes maintaining the property, obtaining written permission from EAI for any exterior alterations, and refraining from demolition. Because EAI is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the preservation easement, the property owner must receive prior approval before any visual or structural alteration is made to the exterior of an easement-protected property, including but not limited to windows, signage, roof structures and appurtenances.
The property owner must receive prior approval before any visual or structural alteration is made to the exterior of an easement-protected property, including but not limited to windows, signage, roof structures and appurtenances.
In the case of an interior space preservation easement, any proposed alterations to the specified interior space should also be reviewed and approved by EAI. Prior to the start of any work, a request should provide a written description of the proposed alteration, including plans, specifications, and photographs with respect to location, dimensions, color, style and materials. If the submitted information is deemed to be insufficient for the purpose of evaluating a proposed visual or structural alteration, EAI may request additional items.
EAI retains all submittals for its own records. When evaluating a proposed visual or structural alteration, EAI relies upon The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and approves those alterations that are consistent with the historic architecture and/or cultural landscape of the easement-protected property. In addition to the Standards, EAI also refers to the illustrated guidelines and the historic preservation technical briefs. To learn more about the evaluation criteria, please refer to the Façade Easements: Resources web page.
Most reviews are relatively quick and simple: Within 5 days of the receipt of a complete alteration request, EAI reviews the material and sometimes visits the site before it provides a written notification of its decision to the property owner. If a plan is disapproved, EAI staff works with the property owner to find a solution that meets evaluation criteria. An approval by EAI does neither refer nor attest to the structural soundness, safety, or compliance of the proposed work with applicable building codes. The property owner is still responsible for obtaining any required building permits, variances, exceptions, inspections, or other governmental approvals before starting the proposed work. An appeal must be submitted by the property owner in writing. Please include any additional information that may have been missing in the original request.
If a property is determined to be in non-compliance with the terms of the Preservation Easement Deed, the property owner is notified about the violation. The enforcement process begins with a letter that describes the violation and requests the property owner to contact EAI, so that the parties can work together in order to resolve the violation in a timely manner. If, within 60 days of receipt of such notice, the violation still remains and the property owner has not achieved some reasonable level of remediation, a second letter is sent stating that, if the violation is not resolved within the next 60 days, the matter will be referred to the Easements Atlanta’s legal counsel in order to pursue legal proceedings. In the final stage of the enforcement process, pursuant to the terms of the Preservation Easement Deed, Easements Atlanta may seek injunctive relief including reimbursement for all attorney fees and court costs.