Keep on eye on costs when pursuing unpaid rent

The Surface Rights Board carefully reviews the bills of lawyers and agents who help landowners file their application

The Farmers’ Advocate Office (FAO) is advising landowners to take care when hiring advisers to help them prepare their Surface Rights Board case.

“Landowners will often recruit professional assistance in filing their applications to the SRB,” FAO spokesperson Jeana Les said in a release. “While the board has the power to require the industry operator to cover these costs, a cost award is not a simple reimbursement.”

Instead the board will look at several factors, including the complexity of the matter, the contribution of the professional hired by the farmer, and whether the costs are reasonable or not.

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The end result may be that the landowner receives a smaller cost award than requested.

“For example, the SRB could deem a lawyer’s per-hour charge of $550 per hour is too high based on his or her expertise or contribution, and may award costs of $350 per hour instead,” said Les.

The board could also deem some of the work done by a lawyer or agent as unnecessary and not award costs for that portion of their bill.

So before hiring an agent or lawyer, “consider the possibility of a reduced costs award,” said Les.

Applications to the Surface Rights Board have skyrocketed since the downturn in the oilpatch. The board used to get about 360 claims annually about oil companies defaulting on rental agreements. That number doubled last year and then doubled again in just the first eight months of this year.

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