Know you rights: Neighbor may not have to share costs of fence

July 16, 2011 at 2:16 a.m.

Our neighbor installed a new fence between our property, and did not tell us he was going to do it. After the fence went up, he asked us to pay half the costs. Do we legally have to pay? Does it matter that they did not consult us about the fence?

As a general rule, unless you have a homeowner's or civic association that requires the costs of the fence be divided between the neighbors, you have no obligation to pay half the costs. Your neighbor installed the fence, so it is his fence and he has to pay for it. If he wanted you to pay for half the fence, he should have talked to you before the fence went up and had you agree to split the costs. Having said that, however, you do benefit from the fence and it does seem fair for you to pay half. But, you must make the decision of whether to pay and how much.

I am 67 years old, and had a common law marriage for over 35 years. My husband recently passed. Am I entitled to his Social Security?

Under the law, a widow is entitled to receive Social Security survivor's benefits upon the death of her husband. The fact that you have a common law marriage does not change your eligibility. As I have said before, as far as the law is concerned, a common law marriage is no different than any other marriage. How much you receive will depend on factors such as how long your husband worked. To learn more about survivor's benefits, visit the Social Security Survivors Planner,

My stepfather died without a will. Am I entitled to any of his property? He always treated me the same as all of his other children.

He may have treated you like his other children, but as far as the law is concerned, you are different, and you do not inherit any of his property. If there is a will, the beneficiaries named in the will inherit. When a person dies without a will, the law determines who inherits his or her property. A stepchild is not included on the list of people to whom property passes after death.

I must move out of my apartment before the end of my lease. I have a friend that wants to move in. Can I just sublease my apartment to him?

Under Texas law, a tenant may not sublease unless the lease expressly authorizes it. If your lease does not permit you to sublease, and you do, you would be in breach of your lease and your landlord could evict the person to whom you sublet the apartment. If your lease does not authorize you to sublet, you may want to speak with your landlord and see if he will agree to the new tenant. Assuming that your friend is as good a tenant as you are, your landlord will probably agree.

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



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