Preservation & Law

Important laws at the federal, state, and local levels that encourage—and sometimes require—historic preservation can shape, modify, strengthen, and improve preservation efforts. Familiarity with these laws can help preservation leaders respond effectively to threats as they arise; develop strategies to avoid future threats; and identify the full range of options available to protect an endangered historic building, cultural site, or even an entire neighborhood.

How Can We Help

The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides legal advocacy support and legal resources to communities and organizations throughout the country to strengthen and ensure the effectiveness of local, state, and federal preservation laws.


A Layperson's Guide to Historic Preservation Law

This booklet provides a concise and comprehensive guide to federal, state, and local laws governing historic resource protection.


Webinar: Introduction to Preservation Law + Easements

On September 28, 2021 members of the National Trust’s Law Division provided an introduction to the legal mechanisms used to protect historic resources, including constitutional issues related to governmental regulation of historic properties, preservation easements, as well as federal, state, and local historic preservation laws. This session will provide attendees with the knowledge and skills to effectively advocate for and champion key preservation issues.

Watch the Recording


Owners of historic properties devote considerable time, effort and expense to restoring the character of their properties. For property owners looking to permanently protect their properties, one of the most effective legal tools available in the preservation easement – a private legal interest conveyed by a property owner to a preservation organization or to a government entity.

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Preservation Law Glossary

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Law prohibiting discrimination to persons with disabilities, by requiring, among other things, that places generally open to the public, such as restaurants and hotels, be made accessible. Special rules apply to historic buildings and facilities.

Certificate of Appropriateness (COA): Certificate issued by a preservation commission to indicate its approval of an application to alter, demolish, move, or add on to a protected resource. Undertaking: Federal agency actions requiring review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Economic Hardship: Extreme economic impact on individual property owner resulting from the application of a historic preservation law.

More Glossary Terms