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Conditional Transfers and Reverter Clauses

A conditional transfer gives more force to a deed restriction. The deed contains a clause which states that if the restrictions entered in the deed are violated, title to the land will revert automatically to the original landowner and heirs, or be transferred to a conservation agency, depending on who would be in the best position to protect the land and enforce the restrictions. The owner can lose the title to his or her land if the restrictions are not adhered to.

The lowered value of the land resulting from conditional transfers may allow the landowner to claim the transfers as a charitable deduction if they are donated to a qualified organization or agency. Restrictions may reduce the value of a gift. A landowner may choose to transfer land, prior to placing restrictions on it, to a qualified agency or organization that will place restrictions on the land. The result is a maximum income tax deduction and long-term protection of the land.

Options and Rights of First Refusal

A landowner may desire to sell his or her land to a conservation organization or public agency that is not in the position to purchase it immediately. The landowner can sell or grant an option to the buyer that guarantees the opportunity to purchase the land in the future. An option establishes a price at which the buyer could purchase the land during a specified period of time.

A right of first refusal is less specific; it simply guarantees the conservation organization or agency the opportunity to be notified of the landowner’s intent to sell. The potential buyer may then make an offer. If another party offers an acceptable price for the land, the organization/agency has the opportunity at that time to match the price offered and purchase the land. Both techniques provide legal means for a group to purchase land at some time in the future although the group is not bound to do so.

Mutual Covenants

Instead of involving an agency, a mutual covenant involves only the nearby or adjacent landowners who are interested in protecting their land. The landowners enter into an agreement controlling the future use of their land through restrictions agreed upon by all participating landowners. Such agreements are permanent and could be enforced by any of the landowners or future landowners. Mutual covenants can reduce property taxes and estate taxes.


Leases are an alternative to permanent transfer of land to a conservation agency or organization. A lease allows unrestricted and exclusive use of the land for a given number of years. Restrictions and provisions for termination of the lease can be incorporated. The landowner can seek indemnification from liability if the land is for public use. It is not possible to take a charitable deduction for the value of a lease.

Management Agreements

A management agreement is a legal contract between a landowner and a conservation organization requiring the landowner to manage the property in a specific way for a determined amount of time. A management agreement is good for landowners who have already been managing their land for conservation purposes. Frequently, management agreements are voluntarily granted by landowners and are designed to suit both parties.