So, your neighbors bulls crossed over onto your property and killed your prize bull and impregnated your purebred cows. Possibly the neighbor’s pigs got out and rooted up your garden. Maybe some horses were in your field and trampled your crops. You’ve got a badly behaved bovine….a cow conundrum…. pork predicament…an equine enigma.
What are you as a landowner to do in this situation? Being a good neighbor and returning the livestock and expecting to get reimbursed for your damages most likely will cause you more frustration, especially if you don’t get along with your neighbor, or they turn it into their insurance company to deal with it. Insurance companies do not subscribe to “Iowa Nice.”
Iowa law authorizes a landowner who has had livestock trespass onto their property to take custody of the livestock. You can round up the livestock and pen them up. If you take custody of the livestock, you are not allowed to give them to anyone except the livestock owner or a local authority. Once you discover the trespass or take custody of the trespassing livestock you are required to provide notice to the livestock owner.
If you know the identity of the owner, you are required to provide them written notice of the trespass and either serve them personally or via certified mail to their last known mailing address. This notice must be provided within 48 hours of the discovery of the trespass or when you take custody of the livestock – excluding Sundays and recognized holidays. The notice must state your name and address, a description of the livestock and where it trespassed or strayed, and an estimate of the amount of the damages caused by the livestock.
If you do not know who owns the livestock, you have to put a good faith effort into determining ownership. If you still cannot figure out who the owner is, you need to publish notice as soon as possible at least once per week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper that circulates in the county where the livestock is located. Again, the notice must state your name and address, a description of the livestock and where it trespassed or strayed, and an estimate of the damages caused by the livestock.
Failure to provide timely notice will result in reduced compensation for damages. The law states that you are not entitled to compensation for damages that were incurred during period of time which you fail to provide timely notice.
The livestock owner is liable for property damage and costs incurred by the landowner in taking custody of the livestock as well as maintaining the livestock while in his/her custody. In essence, if you incur fuel costs or must hire someone to round up the livestock those are additional damages. Also, if you have custody of the livestock for a prolonged period and have to feed and water it, those are additional damages.
Either the landowner or the livestock owner may bring a civil action to resolve the matter. The action must be filed within 30 days of providing notice of the trespass. The livestock owner can have the livestock returned while the case is pending, but only if he/she posts a bond with the court; otherwise, the aggrieved party maintains custody of the livestock and must maintain them.
So, if livestock trespass onto your property here’s how GRL Law recommends you protect yourself:
Take custody of the livestock, care for it, and do not return it to the owner until you have reimbursement for the damages in hand;
Provide written notice to the livestock owner via certified mail or pay to have them served by the sheriff and keep a copy of the notice you mailed;
If you don’t know the owner, have the notice printed in the local paper for two consecutive weeks;
Call GRL Law and get the civil action filed within 30 days of providing the notice of trespass