Texas Consumer Complaint Center can help solve your legal problems

Feb. 5, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 4, 2011 at 8:05 p.m.

By Richard Alderman

I have a problem with a used-car dealer. When I purchased the car, he promised to make certain 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. How can I make him do what he promised?

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. As far as the law is concerned, the only legal remedy is a suit for damages. If the amount is under $10,000, you can file a claim in small claims court. There is, however, one additional avenue to consider - the Texas Consumer Complaint Center. The center, 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 center and give them an opportunity to assist you. You can reach the center at www.texasccc.com, or, 1-877-839-8422.

My ex-boss used my car to conduct his business. He put about 7,000 miles on my car. He refuses to pay me for the mileage, stating we did not have an agreement. What are my legal rights?

To be entitled to any compensation you do need to show an agreement to reimburse you. It does not have to be a formal contract, but there does have to be an understanding. For example, if he said, "let me use your car and I'll pay you for mileage," that would be enough. On the other hand, if you simply let him borrow the car as a friend, and there was no discussion about reimbursement, you probably are not entitled to anything.

You have written that I get up to three times my 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. Basically, this law protects you if you are misled or deceived. Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, you are entitled to recover your economic damage plus up to three times your damages if you show the person acted knowingly. This means that the person knew or should have known he was acting wrongfully. For example, if someone makes an innocent misrepresentation, you are not entitled to three times your damages. On the other hand, if the person knew or should have known that what he said was false or deceptive, the court could award additional damages in an amount up to three times your economic damages. Any court, including small claims court, may award what is usually referred to as treble damages. The bottom line - if you prove your case and show that the person acted knowingly, the justice in small claims court may award you treble damages.

Is an oral lease valid? My landlord says it is not. He now wants to raise my security deposit. Can I be evicted if I don't give him more money?

As a general rule, agreements dealing with real estate, including a lease, must be in writing to be enforceable. Under Texas law, however, a residential lease for a year or less does not have to be in writing to be valid. If you have an oral lease for a year or less it is as binding as a written one. You must prove the existence of the agreement and its terms, but your landlord doesn't seem to be denying the fact that you have an agreement. I suggest you remind the landlord of your agreement, and suggest he check the law before trying to evict you.

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 www.peopleslawyer.net.



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