Tenancy, Liens, and Probate



“I take care of horses and am a grounds keeper for an older woman who passed away 2 months ago. The family told me to just continue what I’m doing. But I have not been paid since she passed away. Now today a lady selling the property came and told me that I was going to have to leave. Now I’m owed a bit of money. If I leave the horses will die. And I’ve put out a bit of money for the horses to have food. Can I put a lien on the property before they sell it and boot me off the property?


“This is quite a complex situation. If you are residing on the premises, then you likely have rights as a tenant. This is true even if you have no written lease agreement. If that is the case, then the property owner/manager cannot simply force you to leave. They must serve you with a proper written notice to leave the premises (typically, 30-60 days).

As far as a lien, the following individuals can record a lien: contractors, subcontractors, laborers, and material suppliers. Prior to recording a lien, however, you must almost always provide a proper preliminary notice.

Because the owner of the home has passed away, there is likely a probate matter that has been opened to govern the woman’s estate. Unlike the property owner giving you instructions directly, at this stage you have no way of knowing who is in charge of the property and who is authorized to fire/pay/instruct you. You should ask the woman for proof that she is the estate administrator or otherwise authorized to instruct you. If you leave knowing the horses will die as a result without confirming that the woman instructing you has authority to do so and/or has a plan for care of the horses, you may open yourself up to a claim of negligence and monetary damages for the harm caused to the horses.

Under the circumstances, I believe you should contact an attorney to help you with the tenancy issue (if applicable), as well as with seeking instruction from the probate court on next steps and recovering (through a lien or otherwise) money for the services you’ve provided.”

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