Apartment usually not responsible for vandalism

Q. This morning, there were five cars in my apartment parking lot that had broken windows. Our apartment has no security gates. Is the apartment responsible for the costs of repairing the cars?

A. In most cases, an apartment is not liable for damage done to a tenant’s property. The apartment is responsible only if the tenant can show that the apartment was “negligent” and that this is why the damage occurred. To prove the apartment was negligent, it is necessary to show that it did not take reasonable steps to protect the tenant’s property. For example, if it did not maintain or have reasonable lighting and this failure resulted in the incident, the apartment could be considered negligent and responsible for the damage. Similarly, if the apartment had security gates but the gate was not working, the failure to promptly make repairs could be considered negligent. An apartment, however, generally does not have an obligation to provide security such as gates. If security is important, you should shop around for an apartment that provides it.

Q. I am being harassed by a debt collector for a credit card bill. I know I owe the money and I am trying to pay, but they want more than I can afford. The debt collector told me that if we do not work something out by next week, he would sue. He said if he wins, I will lose my house. What can I do to stop this? I don’t know what my family will do if we lose our house.

A. As you are aware, everyone should pay his or her bills. But Texas law protects those people who cannot pay by making some property “exempt” from creditors. This means that even if a creditor sues you and wins, you can keep “exempt” property. Under Texas law, your homestead, which is your house and up to 10 acres of land, is “exempt” and may not be taken. You may be sued for the credit card debt, but you will not lose your home. In fact, the debt collector’s threats to take your home violate both state and federal debt collection laws. I suggest you review the debt collection material on my Web site, www.peopleslawyer.net. Then, let the debt collector know that you know your legal rights and see if you can get him to agree to a payment plan. If the debt collector continues to make these threats, speak with a consumer law attorney. My guess is that the debt collector will now be more reasonable and will accept what you can afford to pay.

Q. I want to sue the builder who sold me a defective new house. I believe I was deceived. How long do I have to sue in Texas for a defective house?

A. The time period within which a lawsuit must be filed is called the limitations period, and it is based on the legal basis for the lawsuit, not the type of property involved. The Texas law that controls false, misleading or deceptive acts and practices is called the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Under this law, you must sue within two years after the deceptive act or practice, or within two years of when you learned or should have learned of the deceptive act or practice. For example, if the seller made a representation about the home that turned out to be false, you must sue within two years of when it was made, or when you discovered it was false, whichever is later. You also may have a claim for breach of contract if the seller did not do what he promised to do in your agreement. Claims for breach of contract must be filed within four years of the date of the contract.