Evicting a boarder can be an emotional and logistical nightmare, especially if you aren’t equipped to handle the situation. If you don’t know your legal rights—or that of the boarder’s—you can find yourself in hot water. Learning the laws of your state and being prepared can help make this unpleasant task a bit smoother.
One Owner’s Nightmare
Learning from the mistakes of others can be one way to head off an eviction problem before it happens.
Niki Maxfield, owner of Solo Acres Boarding Stable in Sebastopol, Calif., had a terrible experience with a client 15 years ago that taught her a lesson about the need for a good boarding contract.
“I got a phone call from a casual acquaintance who said she had a friend who had to move her horses from her present boarding arrangement because the stable owner was threatening to steal her horses,” she says. “And, fool that I was, I believed this whole story. So I helped move her five adult horses—one of which was very pregnant—and one newly born foal, to my small boarding facility. She paid for the remainder of the month and that is the last money I ever saw from her.”
Maxfield then suffered through eight years of legal battles with this client. Although she hired an attorney, got a livestock lien and went to court to get permission to sell the horses, the client filed bankruptcy, stopping the auction just before it was to take place. Maxfield next ended up in federal court, where the case lingered for several years while she continued to care for the boarder’s horses. Eventually, Maxfield got permission to sell the horses. This did not solve her problems, however.
“The boarder retained a lawyer and sued everyone even remotely connected with the case, including the poor souls who bought the horses,” she says. “Every time she lost in court—which was every time—she would appeal so that it dragged out forever. It got as far as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals before she finally gave up.”
“Following all this, I consulted a lawyer and revised my boarding contract to include a clause allowing me to sell the horse(s) if board is more than 60 days overdue,” Maxfield says. “I have not had a problem since.”
Susan Remich of Whispering Wood Acres in West Bend, Wisc., finds that overdue payments are the most common reason she has had to consider evicting boarders.
“The situations are always the same,” she says. “Boarders don’t make their payments on time. If the board is over 30 days past due, we send out a letter stating that they have 10 days after the receipt of the letter to pay the amount in full. If they do not respond or make the payment after 10 days, the horse becomes our property, as stated in the contract. We then sell the horse to cover the cost of the board.”
Remich notes that, in most cases, when it gets this far, the owner has no plans to pay the board, and ultimately abandons the horse.
Avoiding eviction if possible is always the best approach, and Remich has worked out an arrangement with one chronically late boarder to avoid the eviction process.
“We have worked out a payment program for this person, and also to have this person work off some of what they owe,” she says.
However, as Remich points out, avoiding eviction completely is not possible if you have boarders that just won’t pay.
“You will always come across some clients who just won’t pay, and you can’t tell who those people are until it’s too late,” she says. Remich recommends that stable owners always use a contract that states the horse will be seized if the owner doesn’t pay.
Obeying your state’s eviction laws and having a good contract are crucial if you need to evict a client. Julie I. Fershtman, an attorney specializing in equine cases, says these are two important factors when faced with a possible eviction.
“First and foremost, follow the law,” she says. “Too often I see stables undertake harsh, illegal action when they are not paid board. Eventually, stables could pay the price for this. For example, some stables give absolutely no notice to the owner, and have actually sold off horses in violation of the lien laws. The result can be a legal mess. When this happens, the buyer does not get clean title to the horse and will likely be denied registration papers from the registry, and the non-paying owner could initiate criminal action against the stable for conversion or theft.”
Fershtman says it’s also important to be fair to your boarders.
“Stables should follow the termination rules and time frames they have set in their contracts,” she says. “Let all boarders know the rules regarding advance notice for termination of the boarding arrangement, regardless of who terminates and why. Most boarding contracts I see require each party to give the other 30 days’ notice in writing, but stables can reserve the right to give a much shorter notice to the boarder, asking him or her to leave, sometimes just three days. Many boarding contracts reserve these shorter time periods for extreme situations, such as dangerous or destructive tendencies of the horse or the owner.”
According to Fershtman, a well-written contract is your best friend when faced with an eviction.
“I believe it is very important for boarding stables to use well-worded contracts,” she says, “and to follow the contracts to the letter.”