Q. I have been living with a man for over 27 years. We have never been married and don’t have a common law marriage. He was married before. What will I be entitled to if he dies?
A. First, as you recognize, it is possible to live together for a long time without establishing a common law marriage. As long as you do not agree to be married, you are not married. Having said that, if you are not married, you will not be entitled to anything upon his death unless he has a will and names you as a beneficiary. If you own any property jointly, you will be entitled to your share. Unmarried partners in Texas generally are not entitled to anything upon the death of the partner, unless there is a will.
Q. Can an apartment complex deny me a place to live because I filed bankruptcy four years ago? I have had good credit since then, and I even offered to get a guarantor to co-sign with me.
A. As a general rule, a landlord, like any other business, may decide with whom he or she will and will not do business. Unless the landlord is discriminating in violation of a law, for example, on the basis of sex, race, religion, or having children, he can set his own standards.For example, it would be unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent to women or people over 45. On the other hand, a landlord can refuse to rent to Republicans, law professors, or people who have filed bankruptcy. The bottom line is that it is his property. The law usually will not force landlords to deal with people they does not want to deal with.
Q. You have written that a person may get up to three times damages if someone violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Can I sue for these damages in small claims court?
A. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act is our state’s consumer protection law. As I have written in the past, this law protects you if you are misled or deceived, or if there is a breach of warranty or unconscionability. Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, you are entitled to recover your economic damage plus up to three times your damages, usually referred to as “treble damages,” if you show the person acted “knowingly.” This means you must prove the other person “knew of should have known” that what he did was deceptive or misleading. Any court, including small claims court, may award what is usually referred to as “treble damages.” If you prove your case and show that the person acted “knowingly,” the justice in small claims court may award you up to three times damages.
Q. Is an oral lease valid? My landlord says it is not. He wants to raise my rent above the amount to which we agreed.
A. As a general rule, agreements dealing with real estate, including a lease, must be in writing to be enforceable. Under Texas law, however, a residential lease for a year or less does not have to be in writing to be valid. If you have an oral lease for a year or less, it is as binding as a written one. For example, if your landlord said he would rent to you for six months for a specific amount, the agreement is binding on both parties. Of course, you must prove the existence of the agreement and its terms.
Q. I often work nine or 10 hours a day. Isn’t my employer required to pay me overtime?
A. Overtime in Texas is based on hours in a week, not hours in a day. You are entitled to overtime if you work more than 40 hours a week. If you worked four 10-hour days, you would not be entitled to over time.