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Know Your Rights: Landlord may not tow car with expired license plate

By By Richard Alderman
Sept. 8, 2012 at 4:08 a.m.


I own two cars. One of them is parked in the lot in front of my apartment. Because I don't use it very often, I have not yet renewed my license plates. Yesterday, my landlord had my car towed, and it cost me $350 to get it back. Is this legal?

Under the Texas towing law, a landlord may not tow a car from an apartment parking lot simply because it has an expired license or inspection certificate. The landlord may have the car towed only if you are given at least 10 days' written notice that the vehicle will be towed from the facility at your expense. The notice must be delivered in person or by certified mail. If the landlord did not give you proper notice, he has violated this law, and you should be entitled to the amount you had to pay for the return of the car. I suggest you talk with your landlord and request he reimburse you for the money you paid. If he refuses, consider small claims court. Unlawfully towing your car could be a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and you may be entitled to up to three times your damages, plus attorneys fees.

My sister has a power of attorney over my deceased father's property. I don't think she is doing what he said to do in his will. Is this legal? How do I challenge what she is doing?

As you know, a power of attorney gives someone the right to manage the affairs of another person. A power of attorney, however, terminates at death. In other words, your sister's power of attorney is no longer valid. The executor or administrator is the one who now manages your father's estate. I suggest you file to probate his will, or if there is no will to administer his estate. Then the executor or administrator will be the one who manages the estate.

My father has a common law marriage with another woman, even though he never divorced my mother. Is this legal?

You cannot have two wives. You cannot marry one person while you are still married to another. A common law marriage is no different from any other form of marriage.

Until you get a divorce, you cannot have another marriage, common law or otherwise. Based on what you say, your father has just one wife, your mother.

I am about to sign a lease for a new apartment. The lease requires I buy renter's insurance. I have never heard of a landlord making a tenant carry insurance. I was always under the impression that renter's insurance was just that - insurance to protect the renter's belongings, if you so desire. I feel that this is in effect, like carrying property insurance on something that does not belong to me. Can I be forced to buy this insurance?

An apartment may require a tenant to obtain any type insurance as part of the lease, and more and more apartments are requiring renter's insurance. A lease is simply a contract and either party may refuse to agree unless certain terms are included. If the lease requires renter's insurance and you did not want to sign it, you may simply walk away and go to another apartment. In my opinion, however, requiring renter's insurance is a reasonable provision. Tenants should always have renter's insurance, and not just to protect their property. For example, you probably are responsible for damage done to the building caused by your negligence or that of one of your guests. If there was a small fire, you could owe a substantial sum of money. Renter's insurance protects you in the event that such an event happens.

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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