Washington is the nation's leading city for historic facade easements, with easements protecting about 960 properties, many clustered in upscale neighborhoods. The easements protect the outer appearance of buildings, while allowing property owners to claim tax write-offs totaling millions of dollars.
The tax breaks are available to owners of structures in designated historic districts or individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The owners sign an easement, in which they pledge not to change the outer appearance of their property without first obtaining approval. They donate that easement to a nonprofit preservation trust, then pay appraisers to estimate how much the additional restrictions have lowered the market value of their homes. Finally, they write off the value of that donation as a charitable contribution on their tax returns.