Should I take my former Boarder to Small Claims Court?

I have a woman who has been a long term boarder. Her life is a train-wreck, almost all of it self-inflicted.

She has been an absentee boarder for most of the 10 years she boarded with me. And while she has always paid her board, it was late more often than not, and her checks often bounced. And we’re not talking 1-2 days late. Her board payment was always the lowest priority in paying her bills.

I was always led to believe she was struggling to make ends meet. Divorced mom in a never ending custody battle with her ex over her kid among other things. So I’ve felt bad for her. While I would charge late fees when she didn’t pay on time, I would sometimes not charge the full late fee to be kind.

2020 was a hard year for everyone, myself included. And it was during 2020 that her horse started to decline, health wise. He was in his 30s. She was also laid off due to the pandemic. It was only after she got laid off that I learned she was earning $150,000/yr! And yet it was always a crap shoot whether the board check would clear. I have to admit, I was really pissed when I found out how much she earned and yet she still bounced checks to me. She always made good, but the fact I’d have to wait 3 extra weeks to be paid when I don’t make what she does… grrr.

Her horse had to be euthanized at the end of last year. At the time of his passing, she owed me close to $900.00. She paid me $300 shortly after his passing.

January comes and so did my whopper of a feed bill, 2/3 of which was feed just for her horse. My low winter cash flow (plus her $600 debt I was carrying) made it so I couldn’t pay my feed bill in full or on time. (I am a very small operation) I incurred interest and a late fee, so I passed this on to her. She doesn’t make any payment in January.

February comes and I don’t receive any payment of any sort. I forgive her late fee for Valentine’s day.

End of February, she pays me $200.00, but the payment is returned for insufficient funds. I’m charged a return payment fee, which I also have to pass on to her.

Early March, she pays me $200 cash to cover the last payment she bounced (but not the return payment fee).

March 1, I assess a late fee for the unpaid balance. No additional payments were forthcoming for the rest of March.
April comes and goes, and no payment or communication from her. I assess a late fee as of April 1.
May comes and still no payment. Another late fee assessed on May 1. At this point she owes me $680.

Finally at the end of May, she contacts me with a proposal, sort of. She starts off asking me, “How much can I pay to to consider us square? Keeping in mind I’m still unemployed”. I gave her a total of $600.00. I said this is just the principal you owe me without late fees for Feb, March and May.

She starts off by telling me I’m being unreasonable in assessing any late fee to someone who is unemployed. She asks me if I will forgive ALL the late fees. She then says she will pay me $225.00 now and $250.00 in 2 weeks if I forgive the rest of her debt and the late fees. I told her I could not forgive Jan or March because I incurred a financial penalty because of her. I was not going to absorb that.

I make a counter proposal. I start off with, “Paying me what you owe should not be contingent upon my agreeing to any payment terms. If you have money to pay me, I expect you to pay me. Perhaps you could send that first payment as a show of good faith, and I will consider your proposal.”

I follow it up with, “I will agree to the following: I will accept your $225 now, your $250 in 2 weeks and then give you until June 5th to make the final $125 payment. So I am agreeing to your payments on your payment plan dates. I am willing to forgive all but the Jan and March late fees (due to penalties I incurred on your behalf). You are getting everything you are asking for except forgiving the last $125.” I also put in the caveat in (since I know all too well that some drama will come up and she will “need” to delay payment as she has done for 10+ years.) that if any of the 3 payments are late, the late fees will be reinstated retroactively. In other words, I made sure there was no way for her to get out of paying me when she said she would.

She tells me to sue her.

I gave her 24 hours to come to her senses and make the first payment, reminding her that these are the terms she proposed and she was getting everything she wanted except forgiving the final $125.00. And that I was being beyond reasonable. She made the payment without another word to me. 2 weeks later, I get the same sob story. Those late fees are unacceptable and I’m being unreasonable. I remind her that she has until May 14th to make the 2nd payment. The payment arrives at 11:30 pm on the 14th.

Now all she owes is the final $125.00 by June 5th. I send her a very pleasant email 3 days in advance reminding her the payment is due. She tells me she’s not making the final payment and has ceased all communication. I was hoping she would, but she didn’t. She will not respond to me further.

Because of this woman’s shenanigans through the years, I wrote the language into the boarding contract that the Boarder would be responsible for ALL cost of collections including (but not limited to) court costs AND my lost wages in pursuit of collections. When I moved to a new facility, I had everyone sign a new contract with these terms. Including her. Reinstating all of the late fees brings her total to $205.00 which will continue to grow each month.

Would you take this woman to court for $205 as a matter of principal? Or just write her off as a lost cause?

Write her off. Devote the time that you would have spent in court working on how you are going to improve your business practices. Pointless to have everyone sign a tough new contract, if you are going to allow a boarder to miss payments, bounce checks, etc. for 10 years without evicting her.

27 Likes

You have a limited amount of time to sue her based on the laws of your jurisdiction. Probably a year but with Covid most places paused the clock from tolling. A Small Claims case for under $1000 probably costs around $15 to file which is awarded back should you prevail. It may take time for your case to go to court as many places are still trying to catch up from the Covid pause. Should you win, you might then have to pay a few bucks for information subpoenas/restraining orders so the bank freezes the assets and pays you. If she paid you in checks that’s super easy.

4 Likes

The problem with taking her to court is that while you will likely get a judgment against her, you still have to enforce the judgment in order to actually collect the money. That would mean further legal proceedings to garnish her wages or put a lien on something. Enforcing a judgment can take a ton of effort and often yields nothing, especially if she is unemployed.

8 Likes

A life lesson that cost you $205. Step away. Next time a client falls behind, give them a warning. If they do it again, sack 'em. Banks, heating companies, gas stations, supermarket chains, Amazon … oh, that endless list of businesses that require one pays money for their goods and services. Why should a horse business be any different?

33 Likes

I agree that $205 isn’t worth it on principle, and sadly, I say this even as a very cheap person, $205 in the horse world today in 2021 money is pocket change.

I reallly want to know what she did for a living to earn $150,000 a year with zero sense of work ethic, though! Impressive to maintain a high level position with such a train wreck of a personality (possible, I know, but still impressive).

10 Likes

If you have the time to take her to court, I say go for it if you have a good paper trail of all that went on and what she agreed to.

You will still not likely get your money but…

4 Likes

$205 is probably not worth your time to drag this out any further. How much longer do you want this woman in your life?

The situation was allowed to get way too personal. This is business, you are not running a charity. Good job on getting a strongly worded contract in place. Now enforce it!

The next time someone launches into a sob story, gently deflect them and return to the facts about the services you provide and the amount they owe if they intend to stay. If anyone starts bouncing checks, invite them to move their horse elsewhere.

7 Likes

I know you need the money but at this point it’s now worth the time, trouble and possible expense of trying to go thru the court system to get it back. I’m not sure the $205 is worth the headache of what it will take to try to get it back and then there is no guarantee you will.

2 Likes

I took someone to small claims court once a long time ago in a very similar situation. I don’t remember details any more, but do remember it was easy enough and felt great to get my money. For me, it was the principal of the thing- she had money to do all kinds of things except to pay me!

2 Likes

No way. You’ve already exceeded the $205 in unpaid salary on the emails and follow up that you’ve had to put in already. I would have cut my losses a while ago and put my energy elsewhere.

5 Likes

I understand why people are saying to walk away, but if you have the time–take her to court. Sounds like you have a solid paper trail (good job on that!) Small claims court isn’t that difficult. Get your money!

8 Likes

If you’re an LLC with a good paper trail, send her statement via certified mail to have proof it was sent, give her 30 days, no payment, send her a certified letter that the debt will be reported to a collections agency if not paid in full in 30 days. The threat of collections should light a fire underneath her butt.

16 Likes

How much is your time worth? The hours involved in preparing your case and taking her to court would likely add up to way more than $250.

She sounds like a piece of work for sure, but at the same time you enabled this behaviour for 10+ years. Better to just walk away and be done with her.

6 Likes

Yes I would do it now matter how much time and money it cost me. You teach people how to treat you. Don’t be a doormat. She needs to be spanked hard and held accountable

7 Likes

Yes, the OP trained this boarder very well , that non-payment was ok.

15 Likes

But in the real world, your time is an asset just like your bank account. You are literally “paying” to take her to court with your effort. The time to have done it would have been when the benefit would have exceeded the cost. So…somewhere between when the boarder owned $900 and $600 is my thought on when it should have become a small claims issue.

At this point it’s just like flushing money down the toilet.

3 Likes

i would be mad enough to call her bluff.

if you have a signed contract and she’s that in arrears could be she owes more.

if the out of pocket costs would be too much then don’t. if it’s effort, i guess, how mad are you?

she sounds like a cow. it infuriates me that people don’t think paying board is important. just because it is their hobby, doesn’t mean it’s the barn’s. I mean, do people not pay doggie day care bills also? what about child day care?

4 Likes

I would file in small claims, and include court costs, plus your lost wages, and everything put in the contract, including cost of getting her served to come to court. Then when she loses, and doesn’t pay, file for a judgment against her, which I think can be put on her credit report.

As a veteran watcher of TV judge shows, take every paperwork you have, and bring it to court with you.

I would have reported the bounced check to the local D.A., writing bad checks is actionable.

3 Likes

IDK if it cost me a couple thousand and I got nothing back from it- she’s literally daring the OP to sue her knowing that’s she got away with it because the OP has let her walk all over her for all this time. OP needs to call her bluff

8 Likes