Are You “Legally Barned”? – Construction and Renovation of Horse Stables on Your Property

1 09 2015

Construction on a horse farm is always an exciting prospect. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes not so much, but always an exciting time nonetheless! This article will help you to begin thinking about legal issues that might be relevant in connection with the building or renovating of a horse barn on your property. Of course every locality will have different requirements with regard to barns (which might further differ depending on whether you are renovating or building), so you will need to do a lot of research about your own locality. However, this article should give you some general ideas of things about which you should be thinking before embarking on your construction project so that you can be “legally barned” when all is said and done.

What factors should you consider when planning to renovate or build a horse barn?

First, check the zoning of the area where you plan to renovate or build the barn. Is the zoning classification, if one exists, one which permits horse barns within it? Do not assume that an agricultural classification includes horse barns. And do not assume that because the horse barn is there that you are automatically permitted to renovate it. Call the zoning authorities and ask. Better yet, email them and get a written confirmation of the zoning classification and what that classification permits in terms of structures. There can also be county zoning classifications overlying or underlying city zoning classifications, so pay careful attention to be certain you have discovered any and all applicable zoning laws which apply to your property and that you know what those laws are, what they permit and what they do not permit to occur within those classifications.

Next, check to see if your property is subject to any restrictive covenants which would affect the ability of your property to be home to a horse barn. If not, just because it is there now does not mean you are entitled to keep it there. A check of the property’s title history at the local deed registry in the county where your property is located is the easiest way to find out if there are any restrictive covenants affecting your property. If you find some applicable covenants on the public record, read them thoroughly to see if they address the issue of horse barns, barns generally or agricultural buildings generally. If you do not know how to find covenants on the public record, you can hire a title searcher to assist you for a relatively reasonable sum of money. It is important that you understand exactly what you are restricted from doing on or with your real property.

Once you have confirmed that (a) a horse barn is indeed allowed within your property’s zoning classification and either (b) you have no restrictive covenants restraining the use of your property in any way OR (c) you do have restrictive covenants which affect your property, but they do not prohibit building a horse barn on your property, then you can move to the next step, which is assessing your horse(s)’ needs when it comes to shelter while considering potential legal liabilities and ramifications resulting from the way you choose to renovate or build your barn.

Just as there are local and state authorities who may issue zoning regulations and there may be multiple private and public individuals who restrict what can be done on your property (including the dimensions of buildings which are permissible on your property), there are also building permits which may need to be obtained in advance and building codes which may or may not have to be followed when constructing or renovating your barn. Odds are that there will be at least some parameters within which you must construct or renovate your barn and you need to know those parameters up front so that your builder can plan for them. It is an unwelcome surprise to realize when you are partially through a project that there are limitations or requirements of which you and your builder were previously unaware. Tearing out and reconstructing portions of the barn is exponentially more expensive than becoming educated about applicable building code requirements in advance and building or renovating the structure “legally” from the beginning.

From a cost standpoint, research your materials and do a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best materials for your project, both from a cost and durability perspective. While some materials may be cheaper, they may deteriorate more quickly and give rise to unsafe conditions sooner than you anticipate. Unsafe conditions are of course one of your lawyer’s biggest concerns because they expose you to potential legal liability for damages suffered by other people, animals and property present on your property. Your liability and hazard insurance company also is concerned about your using safe construction materials in a responsible fashion so as to minimize the likelihood of injury or damage. Insurance companies are typically so worried about it, in fact, that they will often devote an entire department to risk management or loss prevention. You should find out from your insurance carrier whether they have an equine loss prevention or risk management team and if so, whether they will send a representative to your farm to review safety precautions with you. If so, have them come to do it! It is virtually always a free service of your insurance company because they want to help you be safe so that they do not have to pay any insurance claims. In other words, they have a vested financial interest in keeping you “legally barned.”

Think also about ventilation, storage areas (hay, feed, tack and other), vermin prevention, sprinkler systems, fire hazards, quarantine areas for sick horses, safety check schedules to follow, disaster response plans, drainage of rings, stalls and paddocks, lighting and other electrical features, masonry, locks, bolts, paths and footing (in barn and outside), typical weather events (thunderstorms, windy days, hurricanes), typical horse behavior (kicking walls, cribbing), what other animals will be present on the farm, how many humans are in or around the barn at any given time, automatic feeding and watering devices, size of stalls, shavings for stalls, automobile/tractor parking options and restroom facilities. Many of these items may have their own set of applicable regulations.

Knowing the legalities of renovating or building a horse stable on your property in advance of your project will pay off handsomely when you can avoid pitfalls suffered by so many when they embark on a similar project. Talk with others about their barns, read all you can on the topic and listen to what they all have to say!

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2015 is $350). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.

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