This morning’s Idaho Land Board meeting was punctuated by something unusual – a big round of applause at the end, complete with hoots and cheers. The reason: The Land Board had just voted unanimously to freeze its rents for state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake for one year. Cabin owners there have been complaining of skyrocketing rents that have jumped so much that no one wants to buy any of the cabins, though some two dozen are on the market, and existing owners fear they can’t pay the rent. Cabin owners build and own – and pay property taxes on – their cabins, but the state owns the lots underneath, and charges annual rent. For 2008, rents for lakefront lots on Payette Lake were projected to rise 47 percent, and secondary lots, away from the water, 88 percent. Priest Lake cabin sites are projected to rise 15 percent.
Land Board members all agreed that their system for setting rents for cabin sites is broken. When the state tried to auction off two new lots on Priest Lake this fall at new higher rents, no one bid. “We need to find out what is going on,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “This one-year freeze, in my view, gives us the opportunity to do that.” State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “I think at least part of the reason that the market is dead is because these are unstable leases. No one would enter into an agreement if they thought their rent would double, or even increase 25 percent a year.”
Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said the one-year freeze on Payette Lake rents will allow a working group to look at new lease terms for both Payette and Priest lakes. All the state’s cabin site leases on both lakes are up for renewal at the end of 2010. State Controller Donna Jones called the freeze “a reasonable step in protecting the income to our endowment while we’re providing some level of certainty to the lessees.”
Gov. Butch Otter said the new leases must provide more certainty, in part by running for longer than 10 years. “When you put certainty into things it’s easier to put a value on it,” he said after the special Land Board meeting. “I think we have to consider long-term leases so that there’s certainty.” Ysursa noted that even with the one-year freeze, rents for state-owned waterfront Payette Lake lots will have risen 66 percent in three years. “I’ve been working on this stuff for 33 years,” he said. “We don’t get too many of our meetings where we get applause at the end.”