So you want to put your land under a conservation easement with Rensselaer Land Trust... now what? Here are the steps. (Be prepared for the process to take the better part of a year.)
1. Contact us. Please call us at 518-659-5263. Be ready to answer the following questions:
- Your name and contact information
- Location, size and description of the land (wooded, wetlands, farmlands, etc.)
- Dates when we can visit with you and walk your property
- Address of your property
2. Site visit. Our Acquisitions Committee visits with you and walks your land. We evaluate your property to see if it fits with our mission. We conduct an environmental assessment and a negative feasibility analysis. The negative feasibility analysis looks at current and future threats to your property and considers Rensselaer Land Trust’s ability to protect it from these threats. We will discuss with you the different types of conservation easements that could apply to your land such as a forever wild conservation easement, a working forest conservation easement, an agricultural conservation easement or a mix thereof.
Our visit gives you the opportunity to ask questions and evaluate us as your future partner in conserving and protecting your land.
3. Approval. The project is tentatively approved by Rensselaer Land Trust’s Acquisitions Committee, who then recommends the project to the Executive Board. The Executive Board votes on recommending acceptance of the project to the full Board and the Board votes on accepting it at their next meeting. The Board meets every other month.
4. Drafting. You, your attorney and our Executive Director draft the easement terms based on your vision for your property’s future use and Rensselaer Land Trust’s mission. Things to consider include different zones permitting different activities in different places on the property, timing of permitted or restricted activities (example: mowing of fields only permitted after the birds have fledged in August), and who can do what.
5. Survey. A survey setting forth the boundaries of the future conserved property will be necessary should you not already have one. A survey is necessary for Rensselaer Land Trust to defend the conservation easement should there ever be a timber theft, illegal dumping or some nonpermitted activity on the conserved land. We need to know and prove where the boundaries are.
6. Appraisal. If you plan to claim a federal and state charitable gift income tax deduction, a property appraisal is necessary to determine the value of the donated conservation easement. If it is a purchased conservation easement, the appraisal will help set the price. A “Yellow Book” appraisal is required by the Internal Revenue Service.
7. Title Search. A title search must be conducted to ensure that all people who have an ownership interest in the property are involved and on board with your vision for the property.
8. Baseline Report. The baseline report is essentially a “snapshot” of the condition and features of your property at the time the conservation easement in executed. It is a report that includes maps, descriptions and photographs of your property, and establishes a comparison base should the terms of the easement not be followed in the future. This report is a piece of evidence concerning what the property looked like before a violation of the easement occurred and together with annual monitoring reports is necessary for Rensselaer Land Trust to defend the terms and conditions of the conservation easement in a court of law.
9. Stewardship and Legal Defense Fund. In accepting a conservation easement, Rensselaer Land Trust undertakes the responsibility to monitor yearly and steward the property and legally defend the easement in court. This requires money, and a contribution must be made to cover these expenses. The exact amount of the stewardship contribution is dependent upon features of the property, its size and the types of potential threats to it. As with any donation to a charitable organization, this expense qualifies as a charitable income tax donation deduction to the extent permitted by the law. This donation can be spread out over 5 years upon Board approval.
10. Development LongTerm Stewardship Plan. Rensselaer Land Trust develops a plan to monitor and steward your property including assigning several stewards specifically for your property.
11. Recording. The conservation easement deed is filed and recorded with the Rensselaer County Clerk’s office in Troy as well as with the New York State Department of Conservation Easement (NYS DEC).
12. Acknowledgement. Upon reviewing the appraisal, Rensselaer Land Trust provides you with a “Gift Letter” (acknowledgement of your donation of the conservation easement and the stewardship and legal defense fund contribution) and Rensselaer Land Trust signs the IRS form 8283 which you need to claim your charitable income tax deductions. This step does not apply to purchased conservation easements. Purchased conservation easements do not qualify for federal and state charitable gift income tax deduction. Instead, the compensation amount paid for the conservation easement is treated as income to landowner with all applicable income tax liabilities.
13. Press Release. Press releases and statements are sent to the newspapers, posted on Rensselaer Land Trust’s website and Facebook page, mentioned in enews and possibly other correspondence with Rensselaer Land Trust members and funders. The newly protected property is added to the Rensselaer Land Trust’s protected properties website section.
IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: Pursuant to Regulations Governing Practice Before the Internal Revenue Service, any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments), unless explicitly provided otherwise, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.