Unordered merchandise can be kept

Q. I received an item in the mail that I did not order. I called the company and they told me I either had to return it at my expense or pay for it if I kept it. It doesn’t seem fair that a company can force me to spend money to return something I don’t want and did not order.

A. It isn’t fair, and it also isn’t legal. Federal laws prohibit mailing unordered merchandise to consumers and then demanding payment. My opinion is you do not have to pay for it, and may not have to return it. Under the law, you have the right to keep unordered merchandise without paying, unless it was sent to you as an honest shipping mistake. To be safe, returning it is the best option, but they must pay. I suggest you let them know it was not ordered and if they arrange for the costs of shipping, you will return it. Tell them if they don’t pick up the item or arrange for shipping at their expense, you will consider it a gift and keep it. To see more about this law, go to


Q. In a credit card account with two persons on the account, can one person file for bankruptcy to wipe out the debt? After the bankruptcy is settled and the credit card owner given notice of bankruptcy dismissal, can the other responsible party be sued?

A. If two people are responsible for a debt and one files bankruptcy, only that person is discharged. The other person remains liable, and the creditor may sue to collect the full amount from the person who did not file bankruptcy. This is why many creditors will ask for a guarantor or a co-signer.


Q. I have an overgrown tree in my backyard, and I have asked my landlord to prune it or remove for almost two years. The tree is hanging over the house and over my bedroom, and many branches are very dead. It is worse than it was two years ago. I’ve had a company come out and give me an estimate to prune the tree. My question is, if I have this tree trimmed because the landlord is not willing to have it removed, can I take this money used to have this tree trimmed out of my rent?

A. You cannot take the money to prune the tree and apply it to the rent unless the landlord agrees. If you do so without her consent, you could be evicted. I suggest you contact the landlord, in writing, and make it clear to her this situation is dangerous to your health and safety, and she could be liable for substantial damages if the tree falls. Let her know you expect her to promptly prune or remove the tree. You also should offer to do it yourself and apply the costs to your rent and see if she agrees.


Q. Three friends and I put in money each week and buy lottery tickets. Do we need a written contract agreeing to split the proceeds when we win?

A. As far as the law is concerned, an agreement to split lottery winnings does not have to be in writing to be enforceable. If you have all agreed that any winnings will be divided equally, your agreement is enforceable.

The real problem, however, is practical, not legal. Although an oral agreement to split lottery winnings is enforceable, proving the agreement can be difficult. For example, you all may agree now, but once you win, someone might have a different recollection of what you agreed to. The best way to avoid problems when it comes to splitting lottery winnings is to put your agreement in writing. It may not be necessary, but it can avoid a lot of problems, and strained friendships.