Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 223 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


A board of county commissioners may make or renew a lease of county property in advance of the beginning of a term if the time in advance is not unreasonably long.

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                                                                 January 24, 1952

Honorable R. F. Buck
Prosecuting Attorney
San Juan County
Friday Harbor, Washington                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 223

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of January 14, 1952, in which you inquire whether a board of county commissioners may renew a lease upon county property in advance of its expiration date.

            It is our conclusion that the board of county commissioners does have the right to renew a lease prior to its expiration date provided such renewal is not accomplished more than a reasonable time in advance of the expiration date.


            The leasing of county property is governed by chapter 87, Laws of 1901 (Rem. Rev. Stat. § 4019 et seq.), which was last amended by chapter 110, Laws of 1941. In general the law provides that leases may be made only after competitive bid and it prescribes that renewals must be made upon the same basis as original leases.  Nowhere in the statute is any restriction placed upon the powers of boards of county commissioners to prevent them from entering into leases prior to their effective dates nor are they expressly prohibited from making renewals prior to the expiration of an existing lease.

            However, there are some limitations upon a governmental body which prohibit a board from binding its successors in governmental matters.  Although in the case ofTanner v. Auburn, 37 Wash. 37, 79 Pac. 494, our Supreme Court held that a governmental body could make a contract to extend beyond the term of its  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] existing members with respect to its proprietary functions, the law seems to be well settled that such a body cannot bind its successors on decisions which are governmental.  This principle is stated in McQuillin on Municipal Corporations (Third Edition) § 29.101, as follows:

            "* * * Respecting the binding effect of contracts extending beyond the terms of officers acting for the municipality, there exists a clear distinction in the judicial decisions between governmental and business or proprietary powers.  With respect to the former, their exercise is so limited that no action taken by the governmental body is binding upon its successors, whereas the latter is not subject to such limitation, and may be exercised in a way that will be binding upon the municipality after the board exercising the power shall have ceased to exist.  * * *"

            The statute relative to the leasing of county property requires that county property may be leased when it is determined by the board of county commissioners that it is for the best interests of the public to make such a lease.  This determination is probably a governmental question.  There have been no decisions in this state upon this point but it seems probable that under the rule above quoted it would not be proper for a board of county commissioners to determine that a lease should be made or renewed at some time after the members of the board have gone out of office, nor to make a lease so far in advance of the date of its commencement as to make impossible an intelligent determination of whether the public interest will be served by making a renewal at that future time.

            With the exception of these considerations it is our opinion that there is no limitation upon a board of county commissioners in making or renewing a lease in advance of the time when the term is to commence.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General