Court Corner Blog

PLEASE READ: The subjects of this Blog are complicated and subject to change. Furthermore, the interpretation and applicability of the various laws and court cases relied on in this Blog are subject to different interpretations and often turn on the specific facts and circumstances presented. Accordingly, nothing in this Blog is or should be relied upon or construed as legal advice or opinion on any specific set of facts or circumstances. As a consequence, you should first consult with experienced legal counsel concerning the interpretation and application of such laws or court cases to any specific set of facts or circumstances.

I bought an expensive dress but when I got home I changed my mind. Now the store won't let me get a refund. No one ever told me they had a no refund policy! What can I do?

Judge Milian:  My advice to everyone is to make sure you know the store policy before making a purchase.  Most states have laws that require stores with no refund policies to post on their receipts and with signs at the store.  The problem is most people don't read the receipt until they want to return the item!  Always ask before you buy something, especially an expensive dress.  That said, take your best shot at the store counter.  Be polite but persistent and ask for the manager, they may be able to make you happy just to keep you as a good customer.  It is the time of year when everyone is out buying gifts, make sure you know the return policy BEFORE you make the purchase.

A close friend has asked me to loan him money. I am embarrassed to ask him to sign a promissory note because I don't want him to feel I don't trust him. What should I do?

Judge Milian:  First of all, why are you embarrassed to ask him to sign a note?  He wasn't embarrassed to ask you for the money, was he?  Put the same game face on that he did and hand the money over only after you have him sign something.  Cash never leaves this hand without a receipt coming into the other hand.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  Grab the nearest paper and pen, write down the details of the loan, the amount, the date the loan was made and the date it must be paid back.  Have your friend sign it and you keep the original signed receipt.  At a minimum use modern technology and email or text something about the loan.  Print out his or her promise to pay and keep that as evidence.

I recently applied for a small loan and was denied because of bad credit. But when I saw the credit report, it had two bad debts that weren’t mine! What are my rights?

Judge Milian: You have a right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to see your credit report and to make the reporting agency investigate any error you find. First, remember there are 3 credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Get a copy of all three. You can get them from the companies themselves for a small charge or take advantage of any of the offers on the internet to join these services that supply the credit reports for free.Find the debts that aren't yours. Call the companies who made the report and try getting them to see the light companies don't want to make mistakes like that because they can get sued. Stay on top of them and give them a sense of your urgency. At the same time file complaints with the credit reporting agencies which forces them by law to investigate and remove any errors on your report.

I had my car fixed by a repair shop because they told me it would cost $400.00. When it was time to pick up the car, the bill had ballooned to $800.00. They claimed they had to do extra work. Can they do that?

Judge Milian: Most states have laws that require written consent by a consumer of a repair estimate. In some of those states if you don't have it, you aren't allowed to collect anything.  In others if you dont have it, you cant collect more than the original quote. If you live in a state that doesn't require written consent from you, then its a simple contracts case. If you didn't agree to buy more, they cant make you buy more.The problem is that they wont release your car unless you pay it. So you will have to pay it, but make sure you write under protest on the memo line of the check and the repair receipt, and then sue them for what you feel you are owed.

My landlord is refusing to return my security deposit. He says I left the place dirty, but that’s not true! I just left some furniture that was too big to move. Can he keep my whole deposit over that?

Judge Milian:   Generally speaking, landlords can keep money they think is due them in unpaid rent or damages.  You have no right to leave things behind because its inconvenient for you to clean up.  If it costs $200 to pay movers to dump the item properly then the landlord can keep that. If you did leave it dirty and he had to hire a cleaning service, he can keep that too, but he has to return the rest.

These are the basic steps every tenant should take to protect themselves from landlords keeping security deposits.  First, take pictures or video WHEN YOU MOVE IN of anything that is broken, scratched, or stained. Then you need to send an email including photos and/or video or write a letter, attaching the photos, by certified mail to your landlord. This will create a record, even if you arent asking to fix the damaged items, you can prove that you brought it up and it existed when you moved in.  When you move out, take pictures and video too, and have a witness present to corroborate as to how you left the place.  Many states have laws that require a landlord to send a letter within a certain number of days explaining why they are keeping a deposit.  If they dont send a letter, they cant keep it, so be patient and wait the appropriate amount of time.  If an unscrupulous landlord keeps money they are not entitled to. . . that's what small claims court is for.

I shopped in a strip mall parking lot and purchased something at one of their stores. Afterward, I went to a store across the street from the mall lot. I got towed! I had to pay to get my car back so I want to sue the strip mall to return my money!

Judge Milian:  You are completely out of gas on this one. Chances are really good that the parking lot has signs that announce that their parking is only for their customers. When you leave to do other business elsewhere, you are no longer their customer and you are depriving them of the chance to have another customer shop there. You better move your car or feel lucky enough to gamble.

Neighborhood children are constantly coming to play on my property without my permission. What can I do?

Judge Milian: Obviously your first step is to speak to the children and their parents to respect your property, because they have absolutely no right to use your property without your permission. That said, you have to remember that despite not having permission, if you keep on your property something that is what we call in the law an attractive nuisancesomething that is enticing to children like an unfenced pool, a sand pile, a pond, construction debris, an abandoned carif you dont take steps to fence it off from the neighborhood and one of those children get hurt, you will be liable, because the law wants to make sure neighborhoods are as safe as property owners can make them, and these things can be very dangerous.

I moved into an apartment thinking I would stay here a year, but now I want to leave because I found something cheaper and better. I never signed a lease. Can I go?

Judge Milian: Whenever a rental contract is not in writing, it is automatically, by operation of law, a month to month tenancy. Every state has different laws about how much notice you have to give a landlord, but it is usually between 15 and 30 days notice. Once you have given notice, which I suggest you do in a way so you have proof later, like email, fax or certified mail, depending on what your State requires, then you are legally allowed to leave at the end of the notice period, and you are off the hook for the rest of the time, no matter what you verbally agreed to.

Does my dog have to be on a leash when in public?

Judge Milian: Unless you are in an area specifically designated no leash most every municipality has some form of law that compels a dog owner to have their dog under control when on public or another's property and that usually involves leashing or fencing him in. Otherwise if your dog gets loose and bites another animal or human, you will be paying the medical bills, and they can be very costly.

I did not call the police when I got into an accident because the other person promised to pay and begged me not to, now they say it’s my fault!

Judge Milian: If I have any advice for anyone involved in a traffic accident it's this: Call the police, and to the extent possible, try not to move the cars, and take pictures, if you can. A police report that documents the position of the cars at the scene can be your best friend in court when the accident is not your fault. Too many people trust the word of a complete stranger when they urge them not to call the police and promise to pay the damage. We have a name for people like that... we call them plaintiffs, because you'll later learn that there is usually a good reason they don't want the police involved and it's because they have no insurance and a suspended license and don't want to go to the pokey. You wouldn't loan a complete stranger several thousand dollars because you have no guarantee he'll pay you back... why would you trust him to pay for your car repairs?

If a neighbor’s tree is on my property what can I do?

Judge Milian: Generally speaking, you own the land below and air above your property line. That means that if a neighbors otherwise healthy tree branch is growing over your property and providing a shade or dropping that you don't want, you can cut those offending branches, but at your own expense. I say healthy because if a neighboring tree has some inherent dangerous aspect, its rotting and can fall in a storm and hurt you or your property, you do have the right to go to court and force them at their expense to remove the tree.

When should a person consider bankruptcy court and how will it affect them?

Judge Milian: Bankruptcy should be considered only as a last resort when all efforts to negotiate your debts by payment plans have failed. Bankruptcy Laws were put into place to in essence give people a second chance, to sort of call a do over of your financial life. But declaring bankruptcy will stay on your record for 7 years, and makes future credit more difficult. If you have to declare bankruptcy, because your sanity depends on it, then get a lawyer if you can afford to, but if you cant, you can file yourself with forms available at your nearest federal bankruptcy courthouse.

Is it possible to protect yourself against a nonrefundable airline ticket?

Judge Milian:  If that's what you bought, then that's what you bought! Whenever you purchase an airline ticket you have to be very aware of what you are buying and what restrictions apply. Some airlines tickets allow no changes at all, some allow you to change dates by paying extra fees, which can be hefty, others allow changes up until a certain time, some gate agents have authority that people on a customer service line don't have. Your best bet is to only buy a discounted ticket when you are sure that you can travel, buy travel insurance which is pretty cheap if you are worried something might come up, and make sure to get any travel agents guarantees IN WRITING, through emails.


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