Know Your Rights: Deceptive Trade Practices Act does apply to landlords

Richard Alderman

Q. When my lease was up, my landlord asked me to sign a new lease. He told me I could sign now, but I had 30 days to decide after signing my lease if I wanted to stay or go. Shortly after signing the new lease, my apartment was broken into. Within 30 days, I told the landlord I was moving. She told me I couldn’t because I had already signed a lease. I also reminded her that I had 30 days to decide whether I wanted to stay or go, but she said it didn’t matter. I moved well within the 30 days, and now she has reported to the credit bureau that I broke my lease. Help.

A. As you probably know, once you sign a lease both you and the landlord are bound by its terms. You cannot terminate it except for reasons stated in the lease.

But as far as the law is concerned, the lease does not stand alone. There are other laws that may affect the parties to the lease. Among these laws is the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). This law protects you against false, deceptive and misleading acts and practices. It specifically prohibits misrepresentations about legal rights. In my opinion, the landlord’s representation that to you had 30 days to change your mind and move out violates the DTPA. The landlord represented to you that you had 30 days after you signed the lease to move without liability, and then asserted you were bound by the lease. That makes her prior statement a misrepresentation. I should point out that this law protects you from oral or written misrepresentations.

Under the DTPA, you are entitled to recover your economic damages, and if you show the person acted “knowingly,” mental anguish damages and up to three times economic damages. To use this law you must give the landlord 60 days notice before filing a lawsuit.

I suggest you send the landlord written notice, by e-mail and certified mail, letting her know you know about this law and that you relied on her misrepresentation. Explain that you expect she will remove the negative information from your credit report. If she refuses, you may want to speak with a consumer attorney because establishing damages in such cases can be difficult.

Q. My boyfriend of more than 10 years has me as his beneficiary on his work life insurance policy. He and his ex-wife have been divorced for more than 15 years. His children are both 21 and over. His mother is telling him that if something were to happen to him, his ex would receive the money from that policy, not me. Is this true?

A. First, in most cases, a beneficiary designation asks for an alternative beneficiary to be listed in case the named beneficiary pre-deceases the insured. In other words, his policy may determine who receives the money. In the event no one else was named, the money would be distributed according to Texas law, and his children would inherit the proceeds of the policy.

Q. My husband does not have a will and has two kids by his first marriage. In the event that he passes would the house he owned prior to us getting married be left to me?

A. Based on what you say, without a will naming you as a beneficiary, the house will pass to his children. You will have the right to continue to live in the house, but the children will own it. If that is not the result he wants he must prepare a will.

Q. How long do I have to file a claim for damages from an automobile accident?

A. An automobile accident is what the law calls a “tort,” and you have two years to file suit.

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