Who Can Enforce A Conservation Easement?

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At some point in time, a person might do something with the property that is prohibited by the conservation easement. The person could be the property owner that placed the conservation easement on the property, a future property owner, or the outside public. If that person engages in the prohibited activity and refuses to stop, a lawsuit may be brought against them for violating the terms of the conservation easement.

A lawsuit can usually be brought by the qualified organization holding the easement, the Attorney General, or by a person who has been identified to have a special interest in the enforcement of the conservation easement. The general public, neighbors, and any non-specified beneficiaries of the conservation easement generally do not have legal standing to bring such an action. Standing is the legal right to be heard in court, it requires that you have suffered a specific and imminent injury.

The state Attorney General is usually the party to bring a lawsuit to enforce a conservation easement. A conservation easement is considered to be a creature of charitable trusts, meaning that when you donate your development rights it is for the benefit of the general public. But, as stated above, the general public does not have standing to bring a court action. This is where the AG, as the protector of the general public, is allowed to step in and enforce the terms of the conservation easement.  

The terms of the conservation easement or the state conservation easement enabling statute may contain provisions granting additional people the right to enforce a conservation easement. This is where the qualified organization holding the easement will generally be granted standing. However, other parties may also be specified as receiving some sort of benefit enabling them to become a qualified beneficiary of the easement and will also have standing.

For a more in-depth discussion on who can enforce a conservation easement see the court case Hicks v. Dowd.