How to get a historic home listed

October 19, 2012

Trying to get your home listed on the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) or the District’s Inventory of Historic Sites (Historic Inventory) can be daunting. This column will help you navigate that process.

Historic designation offers several advantages.

Listing in the National Register allows the homeowner to be formally and publicly recognized as having a home with historical, architectural or archaeological significance. The home becomes part of the permanent National Register archive. Owners of a registered home may take advantage of the resources of the National Park Service in finding historically compatible materials to help maintain the home. Listing also allows homeowners to network with each other.

According to Kim Williams, National Register coordinator with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, once a property is listed on the Historic Inventory, it is protected by all of the District’s historic preservation laws. The criteria for an inventory listing are modeled after the National Register criteria, but they are not identical, Williams said.

District residents seeking historic designation for their homes can obtain nomination forms from the Historic Preservation Office (but not online). The application requires a physical description of the property and a statement of its significance. Photographs, maps and a bibliography are required.

Applications are filed with the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. The board works with Area Neighborhood Commissions and other community groups in developing and maintaining historic districts in the city and in evaluating applications for historic designation. That board simultaneously reviews applications for listing in the Historic Inventory and the National Register.

The District recommends that the applicant consult the Historic Preservation Office staff, an architectural historian or a historian in preparing the application. The application fee is $100. Once the nomination form is filed, office staff members are supposed to review the application within 10 days. The District will not make a decision on designation until after a public hearing. The applicant is required to publish the notice of hearing in a local newspaper at least 30 days before the hearing so that the public can have input in the decision.

Virginia and Maryland require the homeowner seeking to be listed on the National Register to complete and file a preliminary information form (at www.dhr.virginia.gov and www.mht.maryland.gov). These preliminary forms are used to determine eligibility.

Once deemed eligible, homeowners must complete NPS Form 10-900. Homeowners submit the form to their local or regional state Historic Preservation Office. This 12-page nomination form elicits detailed information regarding the property’s historic use or function, its current use or function and its architectural significance. It also requires a description and a “statement of significance.”

The statement is designed to describe in detail why the property is historically significant: Was the property associated with certain historical events? Was the home associated with significant historical individuals? Was the home designed or built by a recognized master or does it possess high artistic value? Generally, homes less than 50 years old are not considered historical.

Homeowners are required to provide a bibliography citing all books, articles, drawings, plans and other documentation attesting to their home’s historical significance. Photographs must be clear and descriptive and sequentially numbered. Each photo must be logged, and that log must contain the name of the property, its precise location using latitude and longitude, the name of the photographer, the date the photo was taken and the direction the camera was pointing when the photo was taken.

Don’t expect to breeze through the process; it will take about 100 hours to complete the form.

The National Park Service has prepared a bulletin explaining in detail how to complete its nomination form. This 132-page bulletin is available online at www.nps.
gov/nr/publications/bulletins/pdfs/nrb16a.pdf
. Due to the detail required and the fact that each state has its own additional requirements, homeowners are well advised to engage professional architects, historians, community archivists and other consultants to assist them with their nomination form. The state Historic Preservation Office will work with the homeowner to explain state-specific requirements and to ensure that all guidelines and designation criteria are met before certifying to the National Park Service that the property meets the criteria for listing on the National Register.

Once all state and federal nomination forms are complete, the state historic office will review the submission. That review will take at least 90 days, and often far longer. If the office certifies that your nomination meets all federal, state and local criteria, it will decide whether to recommend to the National Park Service for or against listing in the National Register. The nomination and the office’s recommendation are then forwarded to the Park Service for its review. It will make a decision within 45 days of receiving the recommendation.

There are no application or nomination fees at the federal level, but there may be costs for obtaining photographs, drawings and historical documents; for conducting research; and for assembling and filing the nomination form or paying consultants to do so.

Congress virtually eliminated all federal tax benefits for owner-occupied historic homes listed on the National Register unless those homeowners are also willing to grant a permanent preservation easement. Homeowners can then contribute that easement to a nonprofit preservation organization. In such a case, the homeowner is able to take a charitable deduction against his federal income tax for the difference in value of his home immediately before granting the easement and immediately after granting the easement.

Perhaps the most important advice to bear in mind when embarking on this process is to be patient. Because the 64 full-time employees at the District level are apparently quite busy, the homeowner should expect long delays. But for those with the time, money and tenacity to see it through, the rewards of owning a home listed on the National Register are worth it.

Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer in the Rockville office of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake. He is an active real estate investor, developer, landlord and lender. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel. Jacobs can be reached at hjacobs@jgllaw.com.

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