Know your rights: You can sue only for money in small claims court

By Richard Alderman
April 6, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.

Can I use small claims court to sue a neighbor who tore down my fence? I just installed a new fence, and he said it was on his property. In fact, I have proof it was on my property. Can I sue to force him to replace it or pay me to have it replaced?

You may sue in small claims court as long as your damages are less than $10,000. You may not sue, however, to "force" him to do anything. Small claims courts can only award a money judgment. In your case, you would sue for what it will cost to have the fence replaced.

I stopped paying a credit card bill in 2007. I have not paid a penny since then and for a few years heard from several debt collectors. I am now being threatened with a lawsuit. You recently wrote that generally you couldn't be sued for a credit card debt four years after you stop paying. Why did you say generally? When is it longer?

The rule in Texas, called the statute of limitations, is that the four-year clock starts on the day the last payment on the account was made. I said generally, however, because if you start paying again, the clock may be reset. Based on what you say, however, I can't imagine an exception.

I suggest you let the collector know the debt is more than four years old and that any legal action would be barred by the statute of limitations. In my opinion, a threat to sue or a lawsuit violates federal and state debt collection laws.

How old does a person have to be to serve as an executor of my will?

Almost anyone over the age of eighteen may serve as an executor. The major exceptions are individuals who have been convicted of a felony, incompetents and others a court may find to be unsuitable.

I am currently living in my house that is going into foreclosure. I was told it would be sold shortly. I am in the process of moving but wonder how long I will be able to stay after the foreclosure sale?

After the house is sold, the purchaser has the right to take possession and can have you evicted if you don't leave. The new owner, however, will have to follow our eviction laws and give you notice to move. If you do not move, there will be a hearing in justice court.

Following the hearing, the court can issue an order having you evicted. This process usually takes at least two weeks. If you are in the process of moving, my guess is if you talk with the new owner and ask for a little extra time you will not have a problem.

Am I entitled to a paid leave when I have a child? My employer has told me any leave will be without pay.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you may be entitled to up to 12 weeks leave, depending on the size of the company and how long you have worked there. The law, however, does not require that the leave be with pay. All you may be legally entitled to is an unpaid leave.

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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