What if the boarder doesn't have a written boarding contract? The answer is that at best, they have a verbal boarding contract (the terms of which will be very hard to prove). Aside from that, they can rely only on relevant case law to provide them with any legal recourse, such as if the boarding stable was negligent in caring for their horse (and the horse suffered injury or death as a result).
On occasion, boarders have spoken to various friends and relatives and come up with the idea that their state's landlord/tenant law applies. That's just flat wrong. Unless the boarder lives on the property, landlord/tenant law won't apply to a horse boarding dispute. In the four states where we practice, California, New York, Oregon and Washington, there are no laws governing horse boarding, other than animal cruelty statutes and local zoning regulations governing use of the property.
Generally, questions about horse boarders' legal rights fall into three categories: Terminating the boarding relationship, raising board prices and what the boarding stable is required to provide for boarders and their horses.
Boarding Contract Termination
A boarding stable's right to terminate the boarding contract is governed by what the contract says. If the boarding contract says nothing about termination or there is no contract at all, the boarding stable can give the boarder practically any form of termination notice. Unless the boarding contract specifies the boarding stable has to give the boarder advance notice prior to termination, the boarding stable can notify the boarder that it wants the boarder to leave immediately. Unless the boarding contract says termination notices must be in writing, the stable can give the boarder notice in any form it chooses, including verbally, as long as the boarder receives the notice.
Nothing else is relevant, including:
- How long the boarder has been at the facility (yes, even if it's been decades)
- Whether the boarder is current on their board payments (yes, even if they're paid up in advance - they can get a prorated refund)
- Whether the boarder wants to leave
- Whether it's practical for the boarder to move their horse by the termination date
- Whether there's another boarding stable that meets the boarder's personal standards of geographic location, price, care, etc.
- Whether the boarder is required to give the facility advance notice if the boarder terminates the boarding contract
- The boarding stable's reasons for terminating the contract. The boarding stable doesn't have to have a reason to terminate a boarding contract, and even if they do, they don't have to tell the boarder what it is.
- Whether the boarding stable has met the boarder's personal standards of horse care, etc. up until the point of termination
There's no rent control in horse boarding. Unless a boarding contract says otherwise, a boarding stable can raise its rates as much as it wants, as often as it wants, with as little advance warning as it wants. Much like terminating a boarding contract, nothing else is relevant, including:
- How long the boarding rates have been the same
- How recent the last rate increases were
- Whether the boarder is current on their board payments
- Whether the boarder can afford the increase
- Whether the boarding stable's amenities and level of care justify the increase
- The reasons (if any) that the boarding stable gives for the increase
Boarding Stable Standard of Care
Again, the standard of care for boarding stables is governed largely by what the boarding contract says. Otherwise, the boarding stable has to provide only the most basic level of care. For example, unless the boarding contract says otherwise:
- If a boarder's horse is bigger than average, or eats more than average, the boarding stable isn't legally obligated to feed him more, as long as he's not starving to death (literally). So, if a boarder thinks their horse needs more feed than he's getting, and the boarding stable wants to charge the boarder extra, they can. If the boarding stable doesn't want to increase the horse's feed, the boarder might have to buy their own feed. And the boarder should be prepared to store and feed the extras themselves.
- Similarly, the boarding stable can feed whatever type of hay and/or feed it chooses, as long as it's not unsafe. And "unsafe" means moldy, contaminated, or of a type not suitable for horses, such as silage. Hay that's merely stemmy or poor quality isn't sufficient cause for a negligence lawsuit as long as the horses aren't starving to death (literally).
- The boarding stable can use whatever type of bedding it wants, bed stalls at any depth it wants, and clean stalls as frequently/infrequently as it wants, as long as stall conditions are not "Call Animal Control" unsanitary. If the boarder wants different bedding, more bedding, and/or more frequent stall cleaning, the boarder will probably have to pay for it. Even if the boarder's horse is allergic to the current bedding, is on stall rest, etc.
- The facilities the boarding stable provides have to be reasonably safe for normal use. Just because a horse got hurt doesn't mean the boarding stable was negligent.
- The boarding stable can provide as few or as many amenities as it chooses. And the existing amenities don't have to be operational. The wash rack plumbing doesn't have to work, the outdoor arena can be too muddy to use nine months out of the year, and the indoor arena lights can be sketchy. If the boarder feels like they're paying for amenities they can't use, they should negotiate with the boarding stable, and if that doesn't work, consider leaving.