Q. I remember reading about an organization at the University of Houston Law Center that can help with consumer problems. Can you please give me its name?
A. The organization is the Texas Consumer Complaint Center, and in the past year it has helped more than 1,500 consumers resolve problems with businesses. The Texas CCC was founded by the Center for Consumer Law with an award from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It is staffed by attorneys and Law Center students who handle all types of consumer complaints, from debt collection and defective cars to plumbing problems and landlord-tenant issues. If you have a problem and need help, go to www.TexasCCC.com.
Q. If my parents pass away, are my brother and I responsible for their mortgage even though we did not sign on it? If so, what can we do to protect our assets?
A. Unless you signed and agreed to pay, you are not individually liable. Your parent’s estate is responsible for their debts. If they don’t have any assets in their estate, the mortgage does not get paid. Of course, the bank can foreclose on the mortgage and sell the house. If you and your brother wish to keep the house, you will have to make arrangements with the bank to pay the mortgage.
Q. I just rented an apartment. The landlord did not tell me that the upstairs neighbor is extremely noisy and that is why the former tenant moved out. Do I have any legal rights?
A. In my opinion, the landlord has violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, our state’s consumer protection law. Under this law, anyone who sells or rents anything, including a landlord, must disclose information he knows would matter to the other party. If the landlord knew the upstairs tenant was a problem and did not tell you so you would rent, he has violated this law. If it was necessary to sue, you could be entitled to three times your damages.
My guess is that you will not have to take any type of legal action. I suggest you let the landlord know you know about this law, and work out an agreement to move out or move into a different apartment.
Q. My wallet was stolen. The thief charged $2,500 to my credit card. Am I responsible?
A. Good news. Under federal law your maximum liability for the unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. In fact, you have no liability for any charges made after you report the loss. If your card is stolen, be sure to immediately call the credit card company.
Q. I was recently laid off from a small company where I worked for two years. How much am I entitled to for vacation and severance pay?
A. You may not be entitled to anything. Although this is a developing area of law, your rights basically depend on whether you have a contract. If you have an agreement with your employer regarding vacation and severance pay, the employer must live up to its side of the deal. On the other hand, if nothing was said about vacation pay or severance pay, you are considered an “employee at will” and can be fired or laid off at any time. There is no legal requirement that an employer give an employee vacation or severance pay.