Indian Land Leases

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By David E. Bruce, Esq.

An Indian land lease is a contract between an Indian landowner (either the tribe or individual allottees) and a lessee.  Specifically, the Indian landowner conveys the right to use and occupy their ­­­­­property, subject to specified conditions and for a limited period of time, to a lessee in exchange for rent.  A chan­­ge in the terms of such a lease may require the consent of the BIA (see below), the tribe and/or allottees, or all of the foregoing.

The website for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Palm Springs Agency found at https://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/RegionalOffices/Pacific/WeAre/PalmSprings/index.htm notes that the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation encompasses approximately 28,000 acres of land in the western Coachella Valley, including portions of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and unincorporated areas of Riverside County.  There are approximately 1,175 commercial leases, 7,671 residential subleases and 11,118 time shares on Indian land leases under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Palm Springs Agency.

Lease Extensions

Indian landowners, at their discretion but subject to statutory limits on the terms of such lease extensions, may extend existing lease agreements.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs does not compel Indian landowners to extend existing leases.  An Indian land lease on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation may be extended for a period of time such that the total lease period does not exceed 99 years (other tribes have much shorter periods of permitted extensions).

What about a purchase of the land?  Certainly it’s permissible under the law and some local associations have indeed managed a buyout.  The number of consents and separate instruments necessary to effectuate a buyout differ greatly from association to association.  Raising the money for an acquisition can also be problematic and will depend on a number of factors, including an association’s financial condition.  As with a lease extension, such a project requires considerable advance planning, fair negotiations, and sensitivity to the possible underlying social implications of the purchase.

PRACTICE TIP: 

Your association should know when its lease expires and it needs to plan accordingly, i.e., lease extension or lease buy-out.  Ideally, associations seeking a lease extension or buy-out need to begin the negotiation process at least 10 years before the lease terminates.  Sometimes it is difficult to parse out the ownership interests, and in this regard, the BIA maintains its own title records, and can be very helpful.  The minimum recommended 10 years’ planning time allows sufficient time for negotiations between the association, the sublease holder (if applicable) and the Indian landowner to negotiate the terms of the deal, prepare the documentation and, as applicable, obtain the approval of the association membership, the approval of the BIA, and obtain financing.

This website lists statuses of current residential leases under the jurisdiction of the BIA – Palm Springs Agency; this list was last updated in May 2015.