Resolving Past Due Balances for Stable Owners
Boarding stables frequently have disputes with owners of horses that are boarded there. These disputes come up for a number of reasons, some of the most common include:
- Quality of care of the horse(s);
- Stall and/or field conditions;
- Training program;
- Number of times the horse(s) will be fed and watered each day;
- Quality and quantity of hay and feed the horse(s) will be given;
- Amount of pasture turnout;
- Individual vs. group pasture;
- Veterinary/farrier care arrangements;
- How emergencies are handled.
When one of these or another type of dispute arises, boarders sometimes respond by not paying their bill. There are also instances when there is no known dispute between the stable and the horse owner, but the owner is not paying the bill for economic reasons. In either case, this can be very frustrating for stable owners, who are required to provide “reasonable care” to the horses they are boarding, even when the boarder is not paying his/her bill.
When a boarder stops paying their bill, stable owners have several options. Here are some ways of resolving past due balances for stable owners:
Negotiate a Payment Arrangement
If the boarder has fallen on hard financial times and has gotten behind on payments for that reason, one of the best options may be to set up a workable arrangement to allow the boarder to get caught up. You may even choose to incentivize the boarder to follow through on payments by agreeing to waive interest and late payment fees you have a right to collect under the contract.
Allow the Boarder to Work Off the Debt
If the boarder is going through a financial hardship and does not have the money to get caught up on the back payments, you could offer to let them work off the debt by doing various chores at the stable, such as doing feed shifts or mucking stalls. This option is good if you have extra work that needs to be done and the boarder has the time available to work for you, and the ability to do quality work. If you choose to employ the boarder, be sure to review this option with your attorney to ensure that your extra liability risks are covered.
Use the Horse for Riding Lessons
With the boarder’s consent, you may be able to use their horse for riding lessons, if you have a lesson program, to help resolve the past due balance. As with the option to work off the debt, if you and the boarder agree to use the horse for riding lessons, be sure you are properly protected against any liability risks.
Ask the Owner to Remove the Horse
Stable owners who want to minimize the amount of debt the boarder accumulates may ask them to remove the horse if they get more than 30 days past due. This may be a viable option if there is a relatively small past due balance. However, doing this could also cost owners the opportunity to put a lien on the horse as security for the debt. For this reason, do not go this route if the boarder has already accumulated a sizable past due balance.
Take Legal Action Against the Owner
The previous options listed for resolving past due balances for stable owners assume that the boarder is acting in good faith. If that is not the case, you may have no other choice but to exercise your legal options. Under Section 16-401 of the Commercial Law Article of Maryland, stable owners have the right to sell the horse(s) to satisfy the past due balance if the boarder is 30 days or more behind. However, you must make sure to follow the precise steps to legally exercise this option. This includes:
- Notifying the boarder in writing at least 30 days prior to selling the horse(s). This notice must include the pre-determined date, time, and place in which the sale is to occur.
- Publishing notice of the public sale for two consecutive weeks in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county where the stable is located.
Be sure that the notices are carefully worded to ensure compliance with the law, and that you retain documentation of the steps you have taken in case the boarder legally challenges your action later on. If the proceeds from the sale of the horse(s) are more than enough to cover the boarder’s past due balance and the costs associated with the sale, any excess funds must be returned to the boarder. If the proceeds are not enough to cover everything that is owed, the stable owner can file a lawsuit against the boarder for the remaining balance.
Speak with an Experienced Equine Law Attorney
If you are a stable owner who is having trouble resolving a past due balance owed by a horse owner/boarder, it is important to explore all your options, so you can develop the most effective and cost-efficient resolution. Having a skilled equine law attorney in your corner can be a major help with this process. Your attorney can help negotiate a resolution with the boarder and make clear to them the legal options you have available if they cannot reach a workable solution.
At the Law Offices of Matthew S. Evans, LLC, we have in-depth experience and extensive knowledge of Maryland’s equine laws. Attorney Genevieve Lindner is a seasoned contract and litigation lawyer who is also a lifetime equestrian. Attorney Lindner understands the unique legal issues Maryland’s horse community faces, and she puts her experience to work to provide stable owners, horse owners/boarders, equine service providers, and others in the community the strong legal representation they need and deserve.
To schedule a consultation with Attorney Genevieve Lindner, call our office today at 410-626-6009. You may also send a secure and confidential message through our online contact form or stop by our Annapolis office in person at your convenience.