By Kathleen A. Reagan, Esq.
What can a farm owner do when faced with a horse that continually breaks down fences, escapes, and then endangers the other boarded horses or tenants?
Knowing what to do with such escape artists is an essential part of a barn owner's skill set, given the strict liability imposed on the farm owner for any damages that occur from escaping stock.
Or, what can a farm owner do when the horse itself is unobjectionable, but the owner makes every day a war zone at the barn?
Or worse, continually flouts safety restrictions, such as by smoking or violating safe riding practices?
Welcoming boarders and tenants onto a farm raises the inevitable concern: how do I evict if a relationship goes sour?
The following is a series of hints and tips on how to keep the goodbye experience uncomplicated and the law in your corner, even in the face of tension and bad feelings.
These are general observations only, and in the event of an actual dispute, a farm owner should seek out legal advice from a competent lawyer.
The process of eviction depends on who or what is being evicted, and why.
The landscape regarding "who" can be divided into two general areas: boarded horses, and boarded people, as in, live in help or resident boarders.
Finally, there is the situation of a commercial tenant, such as a trainer who has leased the property itself.
The most simple and easily dealt with scenario involves horses that are boarded on the premises.
A farm owner's best tool in this case is to have a boarding contract that gives the farm owner an "ejection button," e.g. the right to evict the horse with 24 or 48 hours notice at the farm owner's discretion.
Given the ease with which dangerous situations or poisonous politics can arise among barn denizens, having such a clause can be a lifesaver for the farm owner.
Such a clause will typically allow the farm owner to give written 24 or 48 hour notice that the horse involved must be removed, with even sooner removal for cause, such as a situation that reasonably compromises the safety of the other horses or boarders.
As long as the horse owner is given notice in the boarding contract that the farm owner has this right, then the right will likely be upheld in court at a later date.
If board has been paid in advance, then the farm owner is best advised to return any unused, pro-rated portion of the board to the owner, unless retention is specifically allowed by contract.
In the event there is no boarding contract and the horses are boarded at will, then the farm owner may still give written notice to remove.
Again, as long as the unused portion of board is returned at this time, then the eviction would likely be upheld in a later court battle.
A much more complicated situation arises when it is a person living on the premises that is being evicted.
In such cases, the law of "summary process" or eviction law would control.
Under this law, in exchange for the rental fee, tenants are entitled to the so-called "quiet enjoyment" of the leased premises for the term of the lease.
Landlords may not recover possession of the leased premises during that time unless the tenant has materially breached the lease.
This area of the law is strictly governed by statutory rights and remedies that govern both sides, so in any such situation, the barn owner should first seek out legal advice before acting.
These laws also cover "tenants at will" who have no signed lease.
Commercial Lease tenants should definitely have a written lease that spells out the means by which the parties can stop the music.
The law does not confer quite the same level of protection onto commercial lease holders as it does to tenants, and so it behooves commercial lease holders to thoroughly understand their contract before signing, and for landlords to engage legal advice before renting their premises.
As is true in most situations, if both sides try to be fair in the event of a dispute, most problems can and should be worked out as long as the contract involved clearly spells out the rights of the parties involved.
Kathleen A. Reagan, Esq. is an equine attorney practicing in Braintree, MA, available at www.kathleenreaganlaw.com, has developed a course in equine law at www.concordlawschool.com, and is co-founder and Vice President of QueryHorse, the largest horse information resource on the Internet.
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