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Know Your Rights: Unmarried partners not entitled to share property after death

Aug. 6, 2011 at 3:06 a.m.


By Richard Alderman

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?

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.

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.

As a general rule, a landlord, like any other business, may decide with whom he 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 a landlord to deal with people he does not want to deal with.

You have written that a person may get up to three times his or her damages if someone violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Can I sue for these damages in small claims court?

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 or 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 small claims court may award you up to three times damages.

Richard Alderman is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391.

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