Q. I recently moved into a new apartment, and I am worried the former tenant still has a key. I asked the landlord to change or re-key the locks and he refused. He told me I could do it myself as long as I gave him a key. This doesn’t seem fair. Why should I have to pay for this?
A. Assuming your lock was not changed or re-keyed when you first moved in, you should not have to pay. Under the law, a tenant is entitled to have an apartment lock changed or re-keyed as often as the tenant wants. The first time a lock is changed or re-keyed, the landlord must bear the cost of the change. After that, the landlord must make the change; however, he or she has the right to charge the tenant for any costs incurred. Based on what you say, your landlord must change the lock or re-key it and cannot charge you. I suggest you speak with the landlord and let him know you expect him to do what the law requires.
Q. A creditor in New York is calling and harassing me over a very old debt. I’ve asked them to mail me the information and to stop calling me. Now they are saying they are going to serve me papers and file a lien against my paid-off car. If they do get a judgment and lien, can they take my car? Or will I just not be able to sell it unless the lien is paid? This is my only transportation to work.
A. Based on what you say, the company might not have the right to take any legal steps to collect and might be violating Texas debt collection laws. Under Texas law, after four years the “statute of limitations” has run. If a lawsuit were filed after this time, you could easily have it dismissed. Also, the threat to file a lawsuit on a debt after the four years probably violates our debt collection laws. Additionally, even if a creditor has the right to sue and receives a judgment, they can only take “non-exempt” property. In Texas, your homestead and up to $30,000 of personal property – $60,000 for a family – is exempt. This would include your car. I suggest you let the creditor know that you know your rights, and that you will speak with a consumer attorney if they file a lawsuit.
Q. I just started a new job. I get two weeks of vacation a year. My employer tells me the vacation is unpaid until I have worked there for two years. Is this legal?
A. There is no requirement in the law that employers give their employees any vacation time, paid or unpaid. I suggest you ask your employer to reconsider. If they do not, you must work on their terms or look for another job.
Q. My stepfather died without a will. He married my mother when I was only 2, and I always thought of him as my dad. Am I entitled to any of his property?
A. He might have treated you like his other children, but as far as the law is concerned, you are different and do not inherit any of his property. When a person dies without a will, the law determines who inherits his or her property. A stepchild is not included on the list of people to whom property passes after death. If a stepparent wants a stepchild to inherit property, he or she should prepare a will.
Q. I moved here from Kentucky, where I was ordered to pay child support as part of my divorce. I have not been paying, and my ex is threatening to sue. Can my wages be garnished for child support imposed by another state?
A. As you appear to know, in Texas, wages may be garnished for child support payments. Most states have agreements with Texas making it very easy to enforce a child support obligation from another state. If the Kentucky order were enforced in Texas, it could be enforced through wage garnishment.