Know your rights: Small claims court is now part of justice court

I was told that the legislature abolished small claims court. Is this true? How does someone with a small claim now get justice?

You are correct that from now on there is no longer a court in Texas called "small claims court." But the change may be more a matter of form rather than substance.

What was formally known as "small claims court" has been fully incorporated into existing justice courts. Justice court will now hear all small claims cases, under new rules that have the potential to make it even easier to "get justice."

Under the new rules, any claim for $10,000 or less may be filed with the justice of the peace. Unlike prior rules, the judge hearing a small claim now has much more discretion to participate in the trail and limit attempts by defendants to make the proceeding more lengthy or costly.

The rules also authorize the judge to allow a party representing him or herself to be assisted in court by a family member or other individual who is not being compensated.

This will allow someone who does not speak English well or who is just extremely nervous about being in court, to have some assistance without hiring an attorney as required by prior law.

The new rules do change many of the details and timing of filing a claim, and you should talk with the clerk of the court about how to file.

While no one can say how the new rules may ultimately be applied, I strongly believe that justice court will continue to be the true Texas "People's Court."

I have a problem with a used-car dealer who did not make promised repairs. It has now been two months, and despite numerous phone calls he still has not done what he promised. It is not a lot of money, but I expect to receive what I paid for. Should I file a claim in small claims court?

Forcing a business to live up to its end of a bargain can be difficult. Of course, the first step is always to speak with the business and try to amicably resolve your problem.

It sounds like you have already done that. Small claims court could be the next step, but I have one additional avenue for you to consider - my Texas Consumer Complaint Center.

The Texas CCC, at the University of Houston Law Center, is staffed with lawyers and law students who may be able help you work out your problems. I suggest you contact the CCC and give them an opportunity to assist you. You can reach the Texas CCC at texasccc.com, or 1-877-839-8422.

I have a sister who is thinking about getting divorced. She has one child. She was wondering how much she might receive for child support.

Texas has enacted guidelines to determine how much should be paid for child support.

Although the guidelines are not mandatory, must courts follow them. For one child, the amount is 20 percent of net resources. The court, however, is instructed to do what is in the best interest of the child and may vary from the guidelines.

I have lived in the same apartment for eight years. My lease is up next month. Is there a law about when a landlord must change the carpet? After eight years my carpet needs to be replaced. The management has refused to change it?

Sorry, there is no law specifying when carpet needs to be changed. That does not mean, however, that you should not request a change before signing a new lease.

Generally, the relationship between a landlord and tenant is a matter of private contract.

Every time you negotiate a new lease, or every month if you are on a month-to-month tenancy, you or the landlord may propose new terms. If you think you are entitled to new carpet, you should ask the landlord.

My guess is he will have to change the carpet to rent it to a new tenant, so he should do so as well for you. If he refuses to install new carpet, you have the option of moving somewhere else or staying put with your old carpet.

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.