San Diego

HiCaliber Horse Rescue Evicted for Not Paying Rent for Months

The ranch owners won a judgment to evict HiCaliber last month and are now suing the horse rescue group for $4.5 million in damages

HiCaliber Horse Rescue, which has been facing animal cruelty and fraud allegations for months, was evicted from its Valley Center ranch Thursday.

Owners of the ranch told NBC 7 that San Diego County officials have been fining the property for creating a fire hazard because too many animals were living on the ranch. At one point, there were more than 200 horses living on the ranch, the owners said.

HiCaliber has been renting the ranch since September 2014. Brenda Markstein- Fox, one of the owners, said she gave the controversial group several warnings, but claims that HiCaliber and its founders, Michelle Knuttila and Romney Snyder, ignored those requests for improvements and then failed to pay rent for seven months.

Last month, the ranch owners won a judgment to evict HiCaliber. They are now suing the horse rescue group for $4.5 million in damages.

When San Diego County sheriff’s deputies arrived to evict the HiCaliber tenants, the group moved 23 horses to a neighbor's estate. At least two animals remained on the property on Friday.

“The destruction of the property is unbelievable,” Markstein-Fox said. “All the landscaping is gone. Inside, animals had lived – feces inside the houses. It’s just really is appalling.”

She said it will cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to repair that damage.

Markstein-Fox said HiCaliber's directors also failed to pay their utility bill for seven months, leading SDG&E to shut off power to the estate Thursday. She said the horse rescue owes the utility company more than $8,000.

Until a solution is found, Markstein-Fox said her property will be without water, because the only source of water is a well whose pump is powered by electricity.

NBC 7 was unable to reach HiCaliber's founders for comment. But an attorney for the non-profit group disputed some of the property owner's allegations and offered an explanation for the poor condition of the horse ranch.

"Considering the thousands of horses and hundreds of volunteers that have passed through HiCaliber Horse Rescue over the last several years, the wear and tear on the property is to be expected," Sean Jones told NBC 7. "While the HiCaliber Horse Rescue staff had plans in place for remediating any property damage prior to their exit, those plans have unfortunately been frustrated by the current eviction process."

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