A long chapter in the history of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will come
to a close this September, when the terms of residence for 45 homes sold
years ago to the federal government and then incorporated into the park
In common parlance the homes are known as “leasebacks,” a misnomer because
the homes’ occupants do not actually lease the property nor pay the
government anything at all for it.
More technically, the homes are called “reservations of use” or ROUs,
because their former owners retained the right to live in them for a
specified length of time after selling the property to the government at a
reduced amount, usually 1 percent for each year of retained use. Thus, under
a 25-year ROU, the seller would have been paid 75 percent of the market
(Many other owners sold their homes for full market value and vacated them
immediately. Those structures were demolished, the natural resources of the
property restored, and the land opened to the public for recreational use.
Since the National Lakeshore was authorized by Congress in 1966, the
government has purchased more than 6,100 tracts of land to incorporate into
Now, though, of the more than 350 ROUs at one time in effect in the National
Lakeshore, only a few remain, and of those nearly all expire on September
30: 26 to be exact. According to a letter from Superintendent Constantine
Dillon to the Chesterton Town Council—dated March 4 and made available to
the Chesterton Tribune—of those 26 ROUs, 12 are occupied by the
original sellers, 14 by persons who purchased the years remaining on the
ROUs from the original sellers.
Of the 12 original sellers still occupying the ROUs, eight were willing
sellers at the time, Dillon noted, while the four remaining properties were
As part of the negotiated sales contract, the National Park Service (NPS)
will pay —come September— “the majority of the moving expenses” of those 12
original sellers if they request, Dillon stated. Or those 12 may opt to move
their home to a site outside the National Lakeshore—if the re-location
itself does not damage park resources—at their own expense.
ROU occupants pay a reduced Indiana property tax “based on the value of the
improvements to the property,” Dillon observed, but “do not pay property tax
for the land value.”
The oldest ROU was purchased by the government in 1969, Dillon stated, and
23 of the 26 ROUs which expire in September were purchased prior to 1991.
Meanwhile, another 19 special use permits (SUPs) also expire on September
30. SUPs have allowed the occupants of ROUs which previously expired to
continue living in the homes when it “was demonstrably” to the government’s
advantage to let them do so. Permittees pay NPS an average monthly rental
fee of $425—some with a lake view are higher—but nevertheless “rates are way
below the average rental rates charged for the area,” Dillon stated.
All SUP occupants “knew when they moved into the SUP unit that they could
not stay beyond Sept. 30, 2010, and that moving expenses would not be
covered by the NPS,” Dillon added.
“NPS is sympathetic to the people in these properties,” Dillon stated. “Any
move is stressful. We have been in regular contact with all ROU and permit
holders over the years and provide information to them on a regular basis.
Last year, as a reminder, we sent letters to all ROU and permit holders
regarding the Sept. 30, 2010, contract date and procedures for vacating. We
have provided details on how to contact us with any questions, information
on relocation costs for those who were eligible, and contacts for social
services and government agencies that assist relocation and adjustment.”
Once vacated, 39 of the 45 ROUs and SPUs will be demolished, Assistant
Superintendent Gary Traynham told the Tribune. “We’ll start the
process as shortly after Oct. 1 as possible, as soon as the folks move out,”
he said. “I can’t tell you we’ll get them all in the first shot but we’ll
get a significant number of them.”
None of the 39 will be used as private residences for federal employees,
The homes on the other six properties, on the other hand, are eligible for
inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and are currently
under review. “We will look at those properties for administrative use,”
When the homes on the 39 properties have been razed, NPS will restore the
natural resources on the sites, Traynham noted, although it’s unclear when
exactly those sites will be opened to the public for recreation. “Many of
those properties are off roads owned by local townships,” Traynham said.
“Getting the homes removed is one thing. Getting the roads vacated is
something else. Some areas may become hiking trails. First we get the homes
removed and the natural resources restored. Then we get the roads vacated.
Then we look at the General Management Plan.”
After Sept. 30, only nine ROUs will remain occupied in the National
Lakeshore, eight of them in Lake County, one in Porter County. Of those
nine, four—including the one in Porter County—are “life estates,” under
which the original seller may remain in the house until his or her death.
Meanwhile, NPS has filed suit against the occupant of a ROU which expired
June 20, 2009 but who has not vacated the home.
In a letter dated Jan. 6, 2009, NPS informed Deborah Pavel, who resides at
the ROU at 260 S. Prospect in Beverly Shores, that her reserved interest
expired on June 20. On May 26, 2009, NPS gave Pavel an extension of 60 days,
to Aug. 20, 2009, and informed her that “No other extensions will be
granted.” On Aug. 7, 2009, NPS reminded Pavel by letter of the expiration of
Then, on Aug. 21, 2009—the day after the extension had expired—NPS advised
Pavel, still in residence at 260 S. Prospect, that she was now “illegally
trespassing on National Park Service federal property” and that she “must
take immediate steps to relocate, including removing all of your personal
property” from the home.
She did not and NPS filed suit.
Traynham said that this is the only suit currently pending related to ROUs.