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Don't withhold rent!

By By Richard Alderman
Nov. 10, 2012 at 5:10 a.m.


My landlord has not fixed a serious problem in my kitchen. Do I have the right to just fix it myself and withhold the repair cost from my rent?

What you are talking about is called "repair and deduct," and as a general rule you may not do this. Assuming you have given your landlord proper written notice to make the repairs and the condition affects your health or safety, you may repair and deduct only for a few specified, very serious problems. The law allows you to deduct if the repairs are for the overflow of raw sewage, the lack of water or heat, or certain housing code violations that materially affect health or safety. In all other cases, your remedy is to sue for the cost of repairs or terminate your lease. If you withhold rent when you don't have the legal right to do so, you could be evicted. For more information about this law, look at the landlord tenant section on my website, peopleslawyer.net.

I changed jobs about three months ago. I recently received an email from my former employer stating he overpaid me on my last paycheck. He is requesting I send them a check for the amount of overpayment. Am I legally bound to pay them back?

I assume you probably know the answer to this question. You are legally bound to pay them back, as they would be bound to pay you more if they underpaid you. When you resigned, your employer owed you a set amount of money based on your employment agreement. As far as the law is concerned, the employer must pay you that amount, no more and no less. If you are overpaid by mistake, you have no legal right to keep the overpayment.

I heard you have a consumer newsletter. How do I subscribe? How much does it cost?

You heard correctly. I publish my Consumer Alert Newsletter three times, every week. Each issue contains useful information ranging from shopping and budgeting hints to legal updates. The newsletter is free, but you must subscribe at peopleslawyer.net.

Can I name my husband as executor of my will if he is also going to be the beneficiary?

Yes. Almost anyone may serve as the executor of a will. The only people who may not serve as executors are minors, incompetents, convicted felons, and others a court finds unsuitable.

My father's will leaves everything to me and my sister, to be divided evenly. Shortly before my father died, he gave some of his property to my sister. Does this property count against her share?

A. The property given to your sister probably does not count against her share of his estate. While a person is alive, he has the right to dispose of his property in whatever way he feels is reasonable. If your father wanted to, he could have sold his property, given it to charity, or given some or all of it to you or your sister. Your father's will deals only with what he owns at the time of his death. Assuming your father was mentally competent when he made the gift to your sister, I see no basis for you to challenge the gift, and it is not part of her share of his estate at the time of death.

I gave a friend my credit card to use in an emergency. I told him to limit his use to $200. Without my permission, he used it to pay for a television. What is my liability? Do I owe the credit card company for his charges to my account?

If you gave your friend permission to use your credit card, you are liable for the bills he incurred. The fact that he used it in a manner different than what you anticipated or charged more than you authorized probably doesn't matter. The bottom line is to be careful with your credit cards. If you give your card to someone and say, "Don't charge more than $200," it is up to that person to stay within the limit. If he or she does not, you are responsible for the total amount charged. Of course, if you pay the credit card bill, you have the right to seek reimbursement from your friend.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at peopleslawyer.net.

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