Your ‘lifetime’ warranty dies with the company
Q. We had our foundation repaired by a company that gave us a “lifetime warranty.” Now that it has cracked again they won’t even return our calls. We are not even sure if they are still in business. What are our legal rights? What kind of an attorney do we need?
A. First, a “lifetime” warranty is for the lifetime of the company. If the company was a corporation that has gone out of business, you are probably out of luck. Assuming the company is still in business or was a sole proprietorship, however, Texas has a law that can help you. If a business does not live up to its warranty, it automatically violates our consumer protection law, called the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If the business “knowingly” refuses to comply with its warranty obligations it may be responsible for up to three times your damages. If you prevail in a lawsuit under this law, you also are entitled to recover your attorneys’ fees.
I suggest that you inform the company or, if it was a sole proprietorship, the individual running the company that you know about this law and try to resolve the matter. If you cannot, you should try to find a consumer attorney who handles claims under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If the amount of your damages is less than $10,000, you also should consider small claims court.
Q. Can I be arrested for not paying my credit card bill? The debt collector said he is sending the police out to my house if I don’t promptly pay.
A. You cannot be arrested if you don’t pay your credit card bill! There is no debtor’s prison in Texas. If you don’t pay the money you owe, you may be sued, but you cannot be put in jail. In fact, the threat to throw you in jail for not paying your bills violates both federal and state debt collection laws. For more information about what may happen if you don’t pay your bills and your rights under our debt collection laws, visit the debt collection section on my website, www.peopleslawyer.net. You also may want to file a complaint with the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at www.texasccc.com.
Q. I did a small construction job and was paid with a check after I completed the work. I deposited the check in my account, but it was returned because the person who gave me the check stopped payment. I went to his bank, and they said it was not their problem. How do I get paid? Why doesn’t his bank owe me the money?
A. The bank does not owe you the money because a bank generally has no liability when a check is written by one of its customers. A check is simply the customer’s order to the bank to pay money to someone else. The bank usually pays the check, and that is the end of the matter. But if there is not enough money in the account or the customer tells the bank not to pay (by issuing a stop payment order), the bank will promptly return the check, and it has no further liability. You should always view a check as the customer’s promise to pay, not an obligation of the bank.
Fortunately, however, you are not out of luck. When a check is not paid, the person who wrote the check remains responsible. I suggest you let the person know you expect him to promptly pay the check, with cash this time, and that if he doesn’t pay, you will file a claim in justice court. If you do have to sue, you can collect the amount of the check plus and fees your bank may have charged and the costs of filing the lawsuit.
Q. I spoke with my neighbor about replacing our fence. She told me to go ahead, she would “pay half.” Now she won’t pay. What are my rights?
A. As a general rule, unless there is a community association rule requiring costs be divided, neighbors do not have an obligation to split the costs of a fence. The neighbor’s promise to “pay half,” however, may be enforceable. If someone simply makes a promise to pay you money, for example to make a gift, the law will not enforce that promise. On the other hand, if someone makes a promise in exchange for your performing a task, it becomes legally enforceable. Based on what you say, you built the fence in exchange for your neighbor’s promise to “pay half.” In my opinion, that makes her promise enforceable. I suggest you let her know you expect to be paid, and consider justice court if she doesn’t pay.
Q. How do you get collection agencies to stop calling for really old debts? One keeps calling about a 15-year-old debt.
A. Even if a debt is 15 years old, you still owe it, and a collector can ask you to pay. After seven years, however, it is “obsolete” and should no longer appear on your credit report. After four years, it is too late to sue. In other words, you still have a moral obligation to pay old debts, but you cannot be legally forced to pay.
If you have decided that you are not going to pay the debt, federal law allows you to stop all further communication by sending a letter to the debt collector demanding it stop. I suggest you send the letter by certified mail. If the debt collector continues to harass you, it will be violating federal and state debt collection laws.
Do you want to know more about your legal rights? Check out my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.