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Know your rights: Repair shop may not be responsible for stolen motorcycle

By By Richard Alderman
June 8, 2013 at 1:08 a.m.


I brought my son's motorcycle into an area repair shop. Someone broke into the shop and stole several bikes, including my son's. The police are investigating, but I doubt we will ever see the bike again. Does the shop have to pay to replace the motorcycle?

Whether the shop is responsible will depend on the nature of the theft. The shop is not responsible simply because the motorcycle was on its property.

For the shop to be liable, you must show they did not exercise ordinary care in protecting the bike from theft, and that is why the theft occurred. For example, if they left the building unlocked or didn't fix broken lights or a broken fence and that is why the thief was able to get in, the shop could be considered negligent and responsible.

On the other hand, if this was just a break-in that could not be avoided and the shop took all reasonable precautions, the shop would have no liability.

Many people believe that if something goes wrong on another's property, that person is responsible. That is not the law. This is why it is so important for all of us to have comprehensive medical and property insurance.

My spouse and I are separated. What do we do to make the separation legal and insure that property we obtain is not community property?

There really is no such thing in Texas as a legal separation. If you want to insure property you obtain is not community property, you and your spouse should sign a partition and exchange agreement. You should have a family law attorney assist you with this document.

My husband and I signed a one-year lease. Shortly after we moved in, he became abusive. I have obtained a protective order against him and moved out. Now the landlord says I will still be responsible for rent if my husband does not pay. Why should I owe rent if I can't live there?

As a general rule, your landlord is correct. Even if a co-tenant moves out, he or she usually remains obligated to pay the rent. The problems between co-tenants are not the fault of the landlord and do not terminate the tenant's obligation to pay rent.

Under the law, however, a tenant may terminate his or her obligations under a lease and avoid future liability for rent if the tenant is a victim of family violence who has obtained a temporary injunction or protective order.

To exercise your rights under this law, you must move out and deliver a copy of the order to the landlord. From that point on, you have no liability for rent. In fact, if the landlord attempts to collect rent in violation of this law, he is subject to a civil penalty of one month's rent plus $500.

I inherited $25,000 from my aunt. Do I need to pay inheritance taxes?

The person who inherits property does not pay taxes. It is the estate that pays taxes. Under current law, estate taxes are due only if the value of the estate is more than $5,250,000.

My father recently remarried. I understand he has a will that leaves everything to my stepmother. Can he do this?

I assume you are concerned because he has left nothing to you. Under Texas law, a person may leave his or her property to whomever he or she wants.

The bottom line is that this is your father's property, and he can do what he wants with it. Without a will, you would be entitled to part of his estate. With a will, the property is distributed in accordance with his directions.

How do I get a copy of my credit report? How much should it cost?

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. I suggest you stagger your requests and get one every four months.

This way, you will always get current information. To obtain information about your free report, just click on the "Legal Topics" section of my website.

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 website at peopleslawyer.net.

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