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By : Jamie Mathwig    99 or more times read
If you own a condo, rent your home, or lease office space, the last thing you want to hear is that your rent or HOA fees are going up. Well you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the increase will be miniscule compared to what a certain sector of property owners are facing. Imagine owning a tiny cabin in the woods that was built 50 years ago by your grandfather. You spent your summers there as a child, and now your children are enjoying the peaceful setting, but now the vacation is over for the average folks that have enjoyed their modest cabins for generations.

On January 1st, 2009 the US Forest Service changed the way they tax owners of cabins built on Federal land, and now that the appraisals are being carried out, owners are seeing yearly leasing fees skyrocket up to $76,000 in some cases. That is a 1000% spike for land they do not even own.

In 1915 the government decided to encourage public recreation by granting permits to build summer cabins on Forest Service land. The permits were granted as a 99 year lease and cabin owners were charged a minimal annual rate that made it affordable for most everyone. Approximately 20,000 permits were issued up until the early 60's when the program ended. For those who were lucky enough to have a permit, their cabins have been passed down through generations, forming traditions and memories; however, they are now at risk of losing them.

David Allen, the owner of an 800 square foot cabin in Arizona that his parents bought more than 40 years ago, has seen his yearly lease, which was $130 for decades, climb to $300/yr in the 90's, to $1,677 in 2008 and now $10,000/yr, thanks to the new program. There are approximately 14,000 cabins that will see at least 100% increases in their yearly fees. Pete Bailey, the legislative coordinator for Coalition 2, the advocacy group for the cabin owners, says that now the fees are so steep some of the cabins can't be sold and he predicts 15% of owners will simply have to walk away from their cherished properties.

Ownership of these cabins comes with many rules:

  • They cannot be occupied full time

  • Cannot be rented out

  • Can only be painted with approved colors

  • No changes to surrounding area can be made without Forest Service approval

  • Square footage limitations

  • All land around the cabin is considered public property

The high fees are not only accompanied by tough restrictions, they also do not provide for road maintenance, water, or fire protection. Permits can be renewed if it is determined there is not a better use for the land but continued ownership is not guaranteed, as was seen in California. After the massive forest fires in 2002, 110 cabins were destroyed and only 4 owners were granted permits to rebuild.

Not everyone is sympathetic to the plight of the cabin owners. Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center at Arizona State University, says cabin owners are finally being charged fair market value lease rates for land they have been using on the cheap for decades; he states "It doesn't benefit me that you have this cabin, so why should the federal government subsidize your recreation?"

Whether or not you sympathize with the cabin owners, there is no denying that the government could have handled this situation in a better manner. A one thousand percent increase on any fees seems unjust and is likely to cause far more harm than good.
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