Seventy-six cabin owners on Priest Lake who rent the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho have filed a lawsuit charging that the state is claiming ownership of improvements such as access roads and utility lines that the renters installed with their own money.
As a result, the latest appraisals for the state-owned cabin sites have ballooned as much as 80 percent, pushing the value beyond the means of many lessees. Those appraisals will be used as minimum bids for possible public auctions and as the basis for future rents.
“The appraisals are objectively wrong,” the cabin owners argue in court documents. They seek to stop the state from using the new appraised values and return to this year’s values plus a 1.6 percent inflationary increase.
The state says that would mean a loss to an endowment that benefits public schools of nearly $2 million next year.
Idaho has scheduled an auction Aug. 28 for 62 of the 354 state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake. Those lessees signed up for the auction, willing to take a chance at being outbid to get ownership of the ground under their cabins. The group suing includes a half-dozen who are signed up for the auction.
Cabin owners who are outbid at auction would receive the current appraised value for their cabin site, plus other improvements.
“The valuations are really indefensible,” said Kaari Burrows Davies, a Kellogg native and Spokane resident whose father, with his father, built a cabin on a Priest Lake state lot in 1959.
When Idaho first started leasing the lots a century ago, the land was undeveloped, with forest stretching to the water. Cabin-site renters brought in their building materials by boat and arranged on their own to bring in roads and utilities.
The cabin owners, whose attorneys include former Idaho state redistricting commissioner Ray Givens and former Idaho Lt. Gov. David Leroy, say the state is violating their constitutional rights and illegally taking the value of the roads and utilities without compensation. They’ve also listed several other concerns about how the appraisals were set.
In response to protests from lessees over the soaring values, the state set up an appeal process for the appraisals. But all phases of that include the same instruction to appraisers: To value the lots as if they have roads and utilities leading to them.
In a court filing, Givens said the average rent at Priest Lake in 2015 would rise from the current $9,915 a year to $17,850 under the new appraisals.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who’s worked on the cabin site issue for years as a member of the state Land Board, said, “It’s always been the big question: Just what is the value of these things? We’ve always fought about it.”
He doesn’t dispute that many renters developed the land where their cabins sit.
But the state argued in court documents this week that renters have no property rights that can be violated when it comes to the land under their cabins.
Judge Barbara Buchanan in Bonner County has scheduled a hearing next week on the request for an injunction.