Giving Notice

This month's legal question deals with clients who skip out owing money.

In my board agreement, I have a clause about both the barn owner and boarder giving a 30-day notice before leaving (or being asked to leave). I had a boarder that moved in, signed the agreement and then left after one month to join a friend elsewhere. She left at the beginning of the month, giving me no warning, and she did not pay that month’s board. When I told her she owed me one month’s board, she essentially told me to go jump in a lake. What are my rights here? In fact, what generally can I expect from having such a clause?

I hear horror stories all the time about people up and leaving in the middle of the night owing money. Thanks in advance for your answer.

As you are probably aware, cross training can improve your skills in your chosen riding discipline. Some training in dressage can help your Western riding skills, for example. If we can accept that cross training helps your riding skills, doesn’t it seem reasonable that cross training can help your business skills? In this case, I want you to think about cross training as a landlord, one with an apartment to rent. What do you do when you have a prospective new tenant?

The first thing that a landlord wants is a very big check. He wants first month, last month, and probably a security deposit. If you can’t come up with the check, you don’t get the apartment. Likewise, I think that any boarding stable should ask for at least the first and last month’s board. Anything less, and you risk your ability to profitably run your business. If you are in a highly competitive market, and can usually keep your barn full, I’d be going after a security deposit as well. Obviously, in your situation, if you had the last month’s board, you wouldn’t have a problem.

The landlord analogy applies more broadly than just your specific situation. Every stable I know has had the problem of a boarder who isn’t paying for her horse. Now, a landlord in this situation isn’t able to maximize his profit, but isn’t really running into any expenses. Not so with a boarding stable. The horse has to eat, and you, as the owner of the boarding stable, have to feed it. If you’ve collected a last month’s boarding fee, you still have your boarder paying for the food. If you don’t have the last month, then guess who is paying for the food? You can adopt some other practices that landlords use to make sure that someone else pays the bill. If you put a hole in your apartment’s wall, who do you think is going to pay to fix it?

What stable owners need to do is think of themselves as a business, the same as Wal-Mart, the only difference being in scale. Their business is running a stable. As part of a business plan, you need to figure out how and where you have the potential to lose money, and then how to shift that burden onto someone else. Taking courses and learning about running other types of businesses can be very useful to help you maximize your profits and minimize your losses.

In your specific situation, you have two choices. You can either suck it up and accept the loss or sue in small claims court. The reason for not suing is both a matter of business strategy and stress levels. Lawsuits tend to cause people stress, and many people avoid them for that reason. The business strategy reason is that some businesses do not want a reputation of filing lawsuits. Both reasons are subjective, and can only be decided by you. If you decide to file a lawsuit, you do that by filing in small claims court. Your town or city clerk can probably tell you what court you need to contact. If the clerk doesn’t know, call the county court and ask the clerk’s office there. Small claims courts usually use a form that they will provide to you. You fill it out in plain English and follow the directions for filing. You will also need to pay a filing fee.

The court will set a date for the hearing. At the hearing, you will present the boarding agreement and explain the facts. Hearings are run in a similar fashion to “People’s Court” and other TV shows—in other words, they are very informal. Normally the judge will not issue a decision in the courtroom, but will mail it to you within a month of the hearing. If you go to court, expect to hear how bad your stable was run and why the boarder was justified in leaving. This is why lawsuits are so stressful. Very rarely will the defendant agree with you that they owe you money, and will come up with any excuse she can think of to show why she doesn’t have to pay. Some defendants (and some plaintiffs) have little regard for the truth. And we all try to put the best spin on everything that we can.

I wish you the best of luck whichever way you decide to go, and hope that you’ll be able to avoid this problem in the future by making sure that you are a month’s board ahead. It will probably help you to sleep better at night.






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