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California’s Agisters Lien Law Or How to Collect From Your Boarders

By: T. Randolph Catanese, Esq. Copyright ©2007

How many times have you heard someone say that they have horse boarders who have not paid their bills and wish they knew how they could collect?  Even worse, the party not being paid, the boarding facility, still has the obligation to provide care for the horses in their possession.  Moreover, even when the boarding bills are not being paid the boarding facility still has an obligation to provide board and care and must do so in a reasonable manner, otherwise they could be subject to a host of legal remedies including animal endangerment and negligence claims.  What is a boarding facility to do?

            California Civil Code Section 3080 and following codifies California’s livestock service lien law or the agisters lien law.  The purpose of the law is to provide a remedy for the boarding facility to collect on their board bills if the client refuses to pay their legitimate board and care fees.  Like many laws, it is important for the boarding facility to follow the lien law carefully in order to meet its requirements.  Failure to do so could render the boarding facility liable for conversion, negligence and other types of tort claims. 

            Section 3080 defines livestock to include horses or other equines.  The law also provides that the livestock servicer has an immediate general lien on the livestock in its possession to in order to secure payment of the boarding bills.  In the event that the board bill is not paid the lienholder, the boarding facility, may retain possession of the horse and charge for the reasonable value of its care until such time as the board bill has been paid.  The boarding facility may sell all or any portion of the horses cared for, provided, a judicial order has been obtained authorizing the sale, a judgment authorizing a sale has been obtained or the owner of the livestock has released the horse to the boarding facility to satisfy the lien.  The critical component of the lien is possession.  In other words, if the boarding facility gives up possession of the horse, the lien is extinguished. 

In order to obtain a prejudgment order for the sale of the livestock to satisfy the lien a hearing is to be held before a judge and certain material requirements must be met.  Generally, this includes a statement that the sale is requested to satisfy the livestock service lien, the amount that is owed to the boarding facility, why a sale should occur before a judgment can be obtained and a description of the livestock including their fair market value.  Many times after the motion has been filed for the right to sell the livestock the client will negotiate a settlement of the fees due to the boarding facility. 

            If an order for sale is obtained it must be conducted as a “public sale” for purposes of the statute.  That means that notice is to be given at least five days before the sale by publication in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county where the sale is to be held. 

            The statute also allows for the recovery of the boarding facility’s incurred attorney’s fees in enforcing its livestock service lien.  In most cases this is a very important point not to be overlooked. 

            In practice it is best to avoid a large board bill before contacting the attorney to enforce the lien.  Also, remember that possession is a required element of the lien.  Lastly, the statute allows for immediate relief in emergency situations if needed.