A promise to make a gift not enforceable

By Richard Alderman
April 20, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 19, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.

My daughter was having financial troubles after her divorce. To help her out, her ex-husband agreed to pay her car note. He paid for about six months and then stopped. The car was repossessed and sold, and now my daughter owes more than $12,000. Can she sue her ex for not paying as he promised?

This question raises an interesting legal question. Under the law, not all promises are enforceable.

A promise is enforceable when it is given in exchange for something. For example, if I say, "I promise to pay you $100 if you fix my car," or "if you will let me drive your car, I will pay half the car note," the promise would be enforceable.

On the other hand, a promise that is not given in exchange for anything is generally considered a promise to make a gift and is not enforceable.

For example, if someone says, "because you did well in school last semester, I promise to give you $100," or "I know you need money, so I promise to give you $100 the first of next month," the promise is not enforceable.

Based on what you say, it sounds like her ex was just trying to help out, and his promise was a promise to make a gift. If that were the case, it would not be enforceable in court.

I am in a dispute with my landlord. Is it legal to record my phone calls with him? Do I have to tell him I am recording it or have a beeping sound?

There are many different rules regarding the recording of conversations, but Texas is what is called a "one-party consent" state. This means that you can record a conversation if one party to the conversation consents.

Therefore, you may record your conversation with the landlord but could not record his conversations with another person. If you illegally recorded a conversation, you could be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

I am trying to lease an apartment. When they ran my background check, they found an old misdemeanor. Can I be denied a lease because of this? I have not been in any trouble with the law for 20 years.

As far as the law is concerned, a landlord may decide to whom he will rent and can discriminate against certain groups of people, unless the law prohibits such discrimination.

For example, the law prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race or religion. Therefore, it would be unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent to women, people above a certain age or people of a particular race or religion.

On the other hand, there is no law prohibiting discrimination based on a criminal record. If the landlord wants to refuse to rent to someone with a misdemeanor or a felony, he or she may. About all I can suggest is that you explain the situation to the landlord and convince him or her you will be a good tenant.

I bought a house in 2010. Last year, I discovered that the seller failed to disclose a major problem with the foundation. Can I sue under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act?

As you may know, the Deceptive Trade Practices Act gives you a cause of action when a seller knowingly fails to disclose material information. For example, if the seller knew of the foundation problem and didn't tell you to get you to buy the house, he or she has violated this law.

To bring a claim under this act, you must file your lawsuit within two years of when you discover or should have discovered the act you are complaining about. In your case, you say you did not discover the problem until last year. That means you have at least another year to file suit.

However, if the problem is something that you should have discovered earlier, the two-year period runs from when you should have discovered that the seller withheld information. The seller would have the burden of proving that you should have discovered the problem earlier.

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.



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