Owning a Cabin

This is not Big Bear. This is not Bouquet Canyon or The East Fork. Big SAC is an escape from the modern world. A great deal of responsibility comes with ownership as well. A cabin owner here is in custody of a living example of California history and should respect it as such. However they are not museum pieces. They need to be used and enjoyed – treated like one of the family. If you fully understand this, then you may be right for this canyon. As much as we enjoy new friends in The Canyon, we are here to discourage those who are unprepared from buying a cabin on a whim.

These cabins are also a lot of work. Any structure in the woods will need regular attention to preserve it. The cabins of Big SAC were built between 1907 and 1936 and repairs are common. When leaves are allowed to collect, rot will quickly set in. Annual fire clearance is required under the Special Use Permit and California law. Animals can cause damage, too. A neglected cabin will depreciate this neighborhood as much as any in town, probably more.  Also, an unused cabin is open for vandalism.

But a good cabin owner finds pleasure in this work. He likens his cabin to owning an antique automobile. A car that is maintained with only original equipment; that is polished and detailed on Saturdays; driven and shown-off for all to enjoy on Sundays.

When you purchase a cabin, you will be issued Special Use Permit.  You lease the land from the US Forest Service. All cabins are on the same lease cycle which currently ends in 2028. Keep in mind that this is NOT a land grant, it is a land lease. You own all of the improvements (cabin, outhouse, sheds, etc.). You only have “possessory interest” in the land.  The issue with this is that you will not be able to obtain a mortgage from a bank on the property.  If you do not have the cash available, you would need to obtain a personal loan or a second mortgage on your primary residence to purchase it.

You cannot live full time in a cabin.  You must have a separate residence.  However, you can spend a lot of time there.  Other than having a primary residence, there are no restrictions on how long you can stay.   The annual fee for your permit is around $650.  From a property tax perspective, you have a possessory interest in the land and, as such, you pay property taxes.  Those taxes are running around $500.  Optional membership in Big Santa Anita Permitees Association will get your cabin patrolled weekly and that cost is around $200 annually. In 2028 when the leases are up for renewal, just as it was in 2008, the Forest Service will “audit” each cabin for compliance (no decorations, no additions, good maintenance, etc.). If the cabin complies, then the permit will be re-issued for an additional 20 years.

Amenities at the cabins vary as each cabin is unique. Cabins are traditionally sold “as is”, including furniture, appliances, tools, almost everything.  Only about 25% of the cabins have water plumbed in from a spring or the stream.  However, due to drought conditions, only about 5% still have water access.  All cabins have pit toilets.  Only a few have solar capabilities.  Most have propane tanks plumbed in for cooking and many now have propane refrigerators. ALL cabins are hike in (you park at Chantry Flat and walk in).  The closest cabin is a .75 mile hike and the furthest is around a 4 mile hike in.

There are many restrictions on the cabins of Big SAC due to their historic nature and the lease previsions. You cannot use the cabin for commercial purposes which means you cannot rent the cabin.  You can, however, allow friends to stay.  Permission must be sought for anything beyond a basic repair. No design changes are allowed. No decks, no change in rooflines, no room additions. Paint color must be approved by the Forest Service. Cabins are for recreational use only; you must maintain a primary address. There are no restrictions on interior design provided they do not affect the exterior or the environment. Fire insurance can be obtained from California Fair Plan.

One should also be aware that there is an old-fashioned, small town effect here. This is not a place for the hermit or recluse. Your neighbors will distinguish your car from the others in the lot. They will know when you come and go, and what you brought in and out. They are always ready with a comment. They will also help you put a roof on your cabin, call you on the canyon line to make sure you arrived OK, or give you the jackets off their backs when you need one; or just invite you to their cabin for dinner. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, visit the cabins for sale. Once you have seen the outsides and done the hikes, come to or call the Pack Station and we will discuss the cabins further. If there are no cabins available or you cannot afford one, join us on the Pack Station deck.