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Land trust

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Title: Land trust  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Wolf River Conservancy, Richard J. Lundgren, Protection log/Archive 1, Index of real estate articles, Farmland protection
Collection: Land Trusts, Protected Areas, Real Estate
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Land trust

There are two distinct definitions of a land trust:

  • a private, conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements;[1] or
  • an agreement whereby one party (the trustee) agrees to hold ownership of a piece of real property for the benefit of another party (the beneficiary).[2]


  • History 1
    • Ancient example 1.1
    • Roman era 1.2
    • United States 1.3
  • Types 2
    • Conservation land trusts 2.1
      • History 2.1.1
      • Aims 2.1.2
      • Strategies 2.1.3
      • Structure 2.1.4
    • Community land trusts 2.2
      • History 2.2.1
      • Aims 2.2.2
    • Other land trusts 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Ancient example

Possible earliest concept of equity in land held in trust is the depiction of this ancient king (trustor) which grants property back to its previous owner (beneficiary) during her absence, supported by witness testimony (trustee). In essence and in this case, the king, in place of the later state (trustor and holder of assets at highest position) issues ownership along with past proceeds (equity) back to the beneficiary:

On the testimony of Gehazi the servant of Elisha that the woman was the owner of these lands, the king returns all her property to her. From the fact that the king orders his eunuch to return to the woman all her property and the produce of her land from the time that she left ... [3]

Roman era

Land trusts have been around at least since Roman times but their clearest history is from the time of King Henry VIII in England. At that time, people used land trusts to hide their ownership of land so they would not have to serve in the military or fulfill other obligations of land ownership. For example, an elder uncle would hold his nephew's land so he would not have to join the king's army. To end this, King Henry in 1536 passed the Statute of Uses. The statute declared that if one party held land "for the use of" or in trust for another ("beneficiary"), then legal title was vested in the beneficiary. Obviously, if the statute had been given literal effect, there would be no trust law. Shortly after the statute was enacted, however, English courts declared that the statute only applied if the trust was passive, that is, the trustee didn’t do anything but hold the land.

United States

In late 19th century Chicago, some people figured out that land trusts would be good things for buying property for investors to build skyscrapers on, and city aldermen figured they would be a good way to hide their ownership in land since they were forbidden to vote on city building projects when they owned land nearby. Because the law of England, including the Statute of Uses, was present in US law, the question arose whether a land trust would be valid. This question went to the Illinois Supreme Court. It ruled that if a land trust was set up with some minor duty on the trustee (such as to deed the property to the beneficiaries 20 years later), then the trust would not be considered passive and would be valid. Thus, the land trust in America today is often called an “Illinois-type” land trust or "Illinois Land Trust".[4]

Land trusts have been actively used in Illinois for over a hundred years and in recent decades have begun to be used in other states. The creation of land trusts is not a recorded document, however the declaration of a trust is through a "deed to trustee". If the trust is filed as a public document, it removes all of the asset protection provided by the formation of the land trust. Robert Pless pioneered the use of the land trust that has been used by many firms throughout the United States since the early 1990s.


Conservation land trusts

Land trusts, also called land conservancies and, more rarely, conservation land trusts, have been in existence since 1891. However, land trusts were not well known before the 1980s.[5][6]


The first conservation land trust Thames Talbot Land Trust), Mexico, and other countries worldwide, in addition to international land trusts like The Nature Conservancy and the World Land Trust.

There are more than 1,667 land trusts operating in every state of the United States. Over 300 new local and regional trusts were formed from 1998 to 2003, with the last LTA Census counting 1,537 operating in the United States. Over 1,000 of these are members of the LTA. California now has the most land trusts, with 173 operating statewide in 2003. Massachusetts, despite being much smaller, was a close second with 154 land trusts that year.


The goal of conservation trusts is to preserve sensitive natural areas, farmland, ranchland, water sources, cultural resources or notable landmarks. These include enormous international organizations such as The Nature Conservancy or World Land Trust, as well as smaller organizations that operate on national, state/provincial, county, and community levels. Conservation trusts often, but not always, target lands adjacent to or within existing protected areas. However, land areas that are particularly valuable in terms of natural or cultural resources or are home to endangered plant or wildlife are good candidates for receiving protection efforts.

Land trusts conserve all different types of land. Some protect only farmland or ranchland, others forests, mountains, prairies, deserts, wildlife habitat, cultural resources such as archaeological sites or battlefields, urban parks, scenic corridors, coastlines, wetlands or waterways; it is up to each organization to decide what type of land to protect according to its mission. Some areas have extremely limited public access for the protection of sensitive wildlife, or to allow recovery of damaged ecosystems.

Many protected areas are under private ownership, which tends to limit access. However, in many cases, land trusts work to eventually open up the land in a limited way to the public for recreation in the form of hunting, hiking, camping, wildlife observation, watersports, or other responsible outdoor activities. This is often with the assistance of community groups or government programs. Some land is also used for sustainable agriculture or ranching, or for sustainable logging.[7] While important, these goals can be seen as secondary to protection of the land from development.


Many different strategies are used to provide this protection, including outright acquisition of the land by the trust. In other cases, the land will remain in private hands, but the trust will purchase a conservation easement on the property to prevent development, or purchase any mining, logging, drilling, or development rights on the land. Trusts also provide funding to assist like-minded private buyers or government organizations to purchase and protect the land forever.


  1. ^ "What is a conveyancing?," Land Conveyancing website [retrieved 20-06-2015]
  2. ^ John C. Murray, “The Use of Land Trusts and Business Trusts in Real Estate Transactions”, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law eReport. American Bar Association. 2007.
  3. ^ Ben-Barak, Zafrira. "Meribaal and the System of Land Grants in Ancient Israel." Biblica (1981): 73-91.
  4. ^ "Abusive Trust Tax Evasion Schemes - Special Types of Trusts" website [retrieved 11-09-2011]
  5. ^ a b Aldrich, R. & Wyerman, J. 2005 National Land Trust Census Report (2006), Land Trust Alliance
  6. ^ Chang, Katie. "2010 National Land Trust CENSUS REPORT". Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Brewer, R. Conservancy, The Land Trust Movement in America (2003) Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press.
  8. ^ Elizabeth Byers and Karin Marchetti Ponte. The Conservation Easement Handbook (2005) The Trust for Public Land and the Land Trust Alliance
  9. ^ Trust for Public Land. Doing Deals: A Guide to Buying Land for Conservation (1995) Washington, DC: Land Trust Alliance
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^   2007 reprint.
  12. ^ Fireside, D. "Community Land Trust Keeps Prices Affordable—For Now And Forever" (2008-07-29) YES!
  13. ^ "Introducing the Equity Holding Trust - Pegasus Real Estate Solutions : Pegasus Real Estate Solutions". Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  14. ^ "Land Trust Formation - The Pros and Cons". Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  15. ^ U.S. Department of the Interior. Office of the Special Trustee. History.


See also

Approximately 56 million acres (230,000 km2) of land in the United States is owned by the United States government in trust for Native American tribes and individuals.[15] The Indian trust lands are governed by the tribes, exempt from taxes, and are usually exempt from state laws. Indian trust lands differ from commercial land trusts in that there was no trust document that created the Indian trust and specified the duties incumbent on the federal government in managing the trust.

Investment trust companies hold property for investment purposes and non-citizens who want long-term access to land in Mexico often enter real-estate trust agreements, called fideicomiso, with Mexican citizens, but land trust more often refers to a community scale organization. Despite containing the word "trust", many if not most land trusts are not technically trusts, but rather non-profit organizations that hold simple title to land and/or other property and manage it in a manner consistent with their non-profit mission.

  • Sales price of the property can be kept off the public records.
  • Property taxes are lower if the purchase price is kept private.
  • Judgments or liens (such as IRS liens) against an individual's name are not a lien against their land trust property.
  • Partners can more easily continue a project if one dies or is divorced.
  • Interests can be transferred quickly without recording a deed.
  • Managing a rental property is easier when the trustee can be blamed.
  • Negotiating a purchase or sale can be easier when the trustee can be blamed.
  • Liability on financing can be limited to the assets of the trust.
  • Lease options can be placed into a trust, with the purchaser recording the option.[13]
  • Make loans “Assumable-like” by using a land trust. Transferring title into a land trust with the seller as beneficiary does not usually trigger the alienation clause (due-on-sale clause) of the security instrument.[14]

Some of the other advantages of land trusts for individuals are:

Individuals use land trusts as an alternative type of housing tenure to owner occupancy mainly for privacy and to avoid probate. Many investors buy properties through land trusts to prevent their names appearing in public records. The land trust also allows the property to immediately pass to the owner's heirs upon death, rather than go through a lengthy probate process.

Corporations sometimes set up land trusts when they want to compile large tracts of land without arousing suspicion or alerting people to their plans (which would cause the asking price to rise). For example, the land for Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, was put together by using many land trusts to buy smaller tracts of land.

A land trust is a useful way to manage complex divisions of the bundle of rights that people can own in real estate, and can be used to manage something as large and complex as a multi-state real estate investment trust, or as common and small as a single-family home.

Other land trusts

Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) is a nonprofit, member-based organization whose mission is to ensure access to affordable homes and vital communities for all people through the democratic stewardship of land. BCLT was the first municipally funded community land trust, and today is the largest community land trust in the United States, with more than 2,500 members. BCLT has become a model of locally affordable housing and community revitalization.

A 2007 study showed that foreclosure rates of members of housing land trusts in the US were 30 times lower than the national average.[12] Foreclosure is destabilizing some neighborhoods as vacancy and abandonment rise and absentee landlords replace homeowners. To focus attention on the problem in Washington, D.C., Enterprise Community Partners and City First Land Trust established a real estate owned program and acquired more than 50 properties in 2009.

Community land trusts (CLT) rely on community members, word of mouth and strategic communications to attract new residents, members and supporters. In residential land trusts, the CLT usually owns the land, leasing it long-term to the land user who owns the home and other improvements on the land. CLTs usually retain rights to buy buildings from residents who move out of the community. The goal of residential trusts is often to protect housing prices from real estate speculation and gentrification, as well as to allow residents to accrue ownership equity, including sweat equity.


Residential community land trusts are now widespread in the United States, but seldom gain much notice beyond occasional local news accounts. The Institute for Community Economics in 2004 reported nearly 120 community land trusts of varied sizes in 30 states, the District of Columbia and in five Canadian provinces. While a few earlier trusts faltered, the number of land trusts in North America overall nearly tripled between the 1987 and 2004.

  • Gain control over local land use and reduce absentee ownership
  • Provide affordable housing for lower income residents in the community
  • Promote resident ownership and control of housing
  • Keep housing affordable for future residents
  • Capture the value of public investment for long-term community benefit
  • Build a strong base for community action
  • Preventing foreclosure

Residential land trusts emerged in the United States after calls among civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s in the American South for economic reforms to reverse rampant poverty. The Institute for Community Economics was organized in the late 1960s to help residential trusts:

Community land trusts trace their conceptual history to India's gramdans where villages held property in the community interest, and to European and North American land banks, which are quasi-public agencies that invest in land often to help build family farms or to encourage economic development. "The ideas behind the community land trust...have historic roots" in the indigenous Americas, in pre-colonial Africa, and in ancient Chinese economic systems, as Robert Swann and his co-authors saw it in 1972. Thus, "the goal is to 'restore' the land trust concept rather than initiate it."[11]


Community land trusts

The Northeast with 2.9 million acres (12,000 km2), while the fastest growing region between 1998 and 2003 was the Pacific (consisting of California, Nevada, and Hawaii), with protected land increasing 147% to 1.5 million acres (6,100 km2) in 2003.

Structure In October 2002,

In between selling land or an easement to a land trust is an option called a bargain sale. A bargain sale is where a landowner sells a property interest to an organization for less than the market price. The amount of value between the market price and the actual sale price is considered a donation to the organization. There are other strategies to conserve land as well.[9]

Conservation easements offer great flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while an easement on a working farm might allow the addition of agricultural structures. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property, and need not require public access. Each conservation easement is carefully crafted to meet the needs of the landowner while not jeopardizing the conservation values of the land.[8]

A landowner that donates a conservation easement to a land trust gives up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, the landowner might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the conservation easement’s terms. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed. This is done through monitoring of the land.

Land trusts use many different tools in their protection efforts. Land trusts buy or accept donations of land in fee. This means that the landowner will sell fee simple interest to the land trust or will just give the land they own to an organization. Landowners may also sell or donate a conservation easement to a land trust.

rolls, providing income to the local government. property tax by 50% in 2003. Land trusts also sell land to private buyers, usually with a strict conservation easement attached. Keeping the land under private ownership has the added benefit of maintaining the land on local Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as well as the expansion of Colorado in Great Sand Dunes National Park When land is acquired, trusts will sometimes retain ownership of the land in perpetuity, or sell the land to a third party. This third party is often the government, which will usually add the land to an existing protected area, or create a new one entirely. Land trusts were instrumental in the 2004 creation of [5]

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