BY ERIN PRUTOW
Every year I receive calls from distraught farm owners involving boarders who do not pay their board or facility fees. A particularly jarring recent case prompted me to write this article, with hopes that boarding facilities can avoid similar nightmare scenarios.
This case involves a boarder, who owned and boarded five horses at a dry stall facility. This boarder needed the stalls “immediately” and failed to return a signed boarding agreement prior to moving in. Whenever the facility owner requested the boarding agreement the boarder made an excuse as to why they didn’t have it. From the outset this boarder wreaked havoc at the farm, complaining about the footing, requesting another round pen be built, criticizing the size and gradient of the turnouts, needing more hay and generally just acting like complete jerks to everyone on the property. Three months in, the boarder stopped paying board for their five horses. They claimed the facilities were inadequate, that the horses were not being fed enough (it was a dry stall facility so the boarder was responsible for providing their own feed), that their personal property was being stolen or went missing, that the managers verbally harassed them and finally, that the staff were in the states working as illegal immigrants and should be deported. Their claims were immense, outlandish and wholly unsubstantiated by fact but were intimidating enough that the facility owner and his staff felt unable to take actions to evict them.
The more the facility owner tried to work things out and address the boarder’s many issues, the more issues the boarder would raise. After seven months of non-payment on five horses, the facility owner finally had enough and hired counsel. However, as you all know, lawsuits take time and money, luxuries that most facility owners do not have (and in this case on top of footing the bill for the nightmare boarder’s five horses). Eventually a settlement was reached but not before the facility owner was out thousands of dollars. I recently received a call from another boarding facility and guess what? The boarder had pulled the same stunt at a new farm just down the road.
I fervently believe that the best prevention for nightmare situations like this one are in the early stages before a boarder ever steps foot on your property. So, please, share often and share widely the following tips I have accumulated for all facility owners:
Take your time, many facilities are approached with emergency departure situations and need housing immediately for their horses. Try not to let their emergency become your emergency. You as a farm owner, not only need time to prep your staff, stalls and make space in the tack room but you also need a fully executed boarding agreement and importantly time to check the potential client’s references.
Get references, and call them. This simple due diligence can mean the difference between a paying happy client and a nightmare situation. Think of your business the same way a landlord handles a potential tenant. Asking for references is a great way for barns to avoid non-paying nightmare clients. If the client refuses to provide a reference from a previous barn, let them go somewhere else. Your reference checks also do not need to be extensive or intrusive, trainers and farm owners are busy, but they will appreciate a quick call to ask if their former clients paid on time, and eventually you will be able to return the favor or pay it forward to other facilities. You may also learn helpful tips about horse care and client management. Many of my cases involve repeat non-paying client offenders, meaning I have the same boarders facility hopping in the same region, habitually not paying their bills. A reference check could easily prevent this type of client from ever stepping foot on your property.
Sign the Boarding Agreement
Make sure the boarder signs the boarding agreement before arriving on the property. Invest in DocuSign or another e-signature software and send those contracts out, get them back, make sure they are counter-signed and store them in a safe space accessible only to you and your staff.
Have a Credit Card on File
Have credit card information on file for each boarder, even if your boarders desire to pay via check or ACH, insist upon execution of a boarding agreement to keep a credit card on file and inform them that the card will be charged if their account becomes delinquent for over 30 days.
Take a Deposit
Similar to a credit card payment on file, I recommend the boarding facility collect a boarding deposit upon execution of the agreement. A deposit can be used to cover costs of damages and non-payment of a client who terminates a boarding agreement.
Although there are numerous laws in place to protect you from non-paying boarder, lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. As such, many of these cases end up in small claims court where a boarding facility recovers a fraction of the debt the boarder has accrued. A comprehensive and signed boarding agreement can alleviate a lot of agony in the event of a breach of contract when you need to go to a court to enforce its terms. If you have any questions pertaining to this article or need your boarding agreement updated, please contact an equine attorney in your state. Performing due diligence and investing in up-to-date contracts can save you thousands down the line if, and when, a non-paying boarder brings their horses to your facility.
Erin Prutow is a SoCal based life long equestrian showing in the adult equitation and hunters. She owns her own law firm and practices estate planning and equine law.