Kit Houses

Preservation Easements

Historic New England protects this Connecticut residence through its Preservation Easement Program.

What if a homeowner wants to protect more than what is visible from the public right-of-way? What if, despite the odds, the house has remarkably intact historic interiors?

In some of the hottest property markets in New England, it is not unusual to see dumpsters filled with historic doors, floorboards, and fireplace surrounds—even in National Register historic districts—as gut renovations erase any trace of the past. If this is a concern, consider a preservation easement. 

What is a Preservation Easement and What does it Do?

Preservation easements are private legal agreements granting the easement holder—a qualified nonprofit organization or governmental entity—the right to regulate certain changes to historic properties. These agreements are recorded with the land records and are binding on future owners, donating certain rights to the easement holder to protect the property’s historic character in perpetuity.

Easements can accomplish a wide range of preservation goals and can be tailored specifically to the needs of the historic property. At their most basic, they can prohibit demolition, demolition-by-neglect, and require changes and repairs to exterior features to be reviewed by the easement holder. They can also protect outbuildings, landscape features, and a variety of interior features—paneling, floors, plaster, moldings, framing, door hardware, and a host of others. An easement should be structured to retain enough flexibility for future owners so that the building can adapt to changing lifestyles and so owners can make reasonable aesthetic alterations that don’t irreversibly harm protected features. Painting woodwork or hanging new wallpaper won’t necessarily harm historic fabric but will allow future owners to customize their residences.

A preservation easement must be well crafted with clear language defining the scope of protection, legal procedures, and documentation of existing conditions. It must also have teeth—a restriction isn’t of much use if it can’t be enforced. When a violation occurs, the easement empowers the holder to take legal action to enforce compliance. However, with regular monitoring and good communication, preservation easements partner a property owner with experienced preservation staff to provide technical guidance and information. Ultimately, both have a mutual interest in ensuring that the property remains in good repair and that the unique features that give the property its historic character are preserved. Well-executed and effectively managed, a preservation easement can be one of the most comprehensive and powerful tools to protect a historic property.

Historic New England holds more than 100 preservation easements in the region through its Preservation Easement Program, from Stamford, Connecticut, to Caribou, Maine. For more information about the program, visit: