BOISE – Idaho’s top elected officials quietly heard a presentation Tuesday on what happens if longtime renters of state-owned lake cabin sites just walk away from their leases as rates continue increasing.
A court decision last summer removed protections granted to people who rent lake cabin sites, including those on Priest Lake, from competitive auctions when their leases come up for renewal. At the same time, Idaho is in the process of getting out of the cabin-site rental business, through land exchanges, auctions or other moves that will keep income flowing to the state’s endowment. In the midst of all that, new state appraisals on the 354 Priest Lake cabin sites came in an average of 84 percent higher for next year, with some more than doubling.
“We’ve got a Supreme Court decision that we have to go with,” Gov. Butch Otter said. “That’s where we are.”
Cabin owners have until April 30 to apply to renew their leases for 2014; the current leases expire Dec. 31.
Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said when state Lands Director Tom Schultz asked lessees at a well-attended Spokane Valley meeting last week how many “were really thinking about not renewing, or not signing the 2014 lease … I would guess easily 90 percent stood up.”
Christenson said some tenants have no option. “With an average of 84 percent increase in values, some as high as 168 percent, they can’t afford to remain as lessees, they can’t afford to buy their lot … and there’s no market to sell them. They’re in a no-win situation.”
The Idaho State Land Board is required by the state constitution to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term return.
“Obviously these people have enjoyed these cottage sites for generations, in some cases, and I certainly can see that,” Otter said. “I understand the anxiety that it’s caused, but it doesn’t lessen our obligation.”
April 30 is also the deadline for bidders to step forward who might want to bid against the current lessees; so far, none has. Fewer than a third of Priest Lake cabin owners have filed their renewal applications so far, though the applications don’t obligate them.
Land Board members also heard a briefing Tuesday from staffers on a new process for lessees to point out factual errors in their new appraisals. If those are reported to the state Lands Department by April 30, the department will review them, and if warranted, ask the appraisers to consider them and make revisions.