Know your rights: We may love our dogs, but they still are just property

By Richard Alderman
May 4, 2013 at 12:04 a.m.

I heard that if someone kills your dog all you can recover is what it will cost to replace that dog. Our dog is just a "mutt," but he has been a member of the family for many years. Our children would be heartbroken if someone were to kill or injure our dog. Is it really true that we could not collect any damages for the mental pain and anguish we would suffer from the loss of our best friend?

The law has long held that although we love our dogs dearly, they are property in the eyes of the law, and we cannot recover noneconomic damages based on the sentimental value we place on our pets. The Texas Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this rule.

It also is the rule for any property, four-footed or otherwise. For example, you may have your grandfather's lawn chair that was his favorite. To you, it has substantial sentimental value, and you would be very upset if anything happened to it.

If it were wrongfully destroyed, however, your damages would be based on how much a replacement would cost at Wal-Mart. It is special to you, but not in the eyes of the law.

The bottom line is that dog owners can recover only the "value" of the dog, which includes replacement costs and any additional value it has because of special training. Sentimental value does not enter into the equation.

My friend was late on her rent at an apartment complex. One day, she came home and found a lien notice where her TV used to be. They took both of her TVs in the apartment. This makes no sense to me, and I have never heard of this. Where I come from, that's stealing. Is this legal for them to do?

This is stealing if someone else were to do it but probably not when it is the landlord. Under Texas law, a landlord may have a "landlord's lien" on the tenant's property and may be able to take it if the rent is not paid. For such a lien to exist, it must be written in the lease and be bold or underlined.

If there is no such provision in the lease, the landlord has no right to take the property. A landlord also may take only certain property. The list of protected property includes wearing apparel, food, some furniture, children's toys and a car.

Electronic equipment such as a television is not protected and may be taken.

Finally, if the landlord takes any property, he must leave a notice telling you what he took and what you must do to get it back. A landlord who violates this law is responsible for all the tenant's damages, plus a penalty of $500 or one month's rent, whichever is greater.

My son purchased a vehicle but did not have good credit. I had to sign as a co-signer. He has now been paying the note on time for more than three years and has established good credit. I want to buy a house, and it is hurting my credit to be a co-signer on his note. What can I do to have my name removed?

As I have said before, don't co-sign unless you are willing to pay and willing to be obligated to pay until the note is paid off. The only way you can have your name removed is for the creditor to agree to remove it or for your son to refinance in his own name.

The creditor is under no legal obligation to remove a co-signer, even if there is no longer any need for one. I suggest you talk with the creditor to see if it will agree to refinance the note in only your son's name or see if someone else will refinance the car for him. If his credit is good, you should be able to work something out.

My lease ended, and I went month-to-month. My landlord says I still must give 60 days notice before I leave. Is this legal?

This has become a common question. As a general rule, when parties have a month-to-month tenancy, either party may end the relationship by giving 30 days notice. On the other hand, parties may always agree to extend or shorten this time period. My guess is that your lease has a clause saying that after the lease period ends you become a month-to-month tenant.

It probably also says that even if you became a month-to-month tenant, you still had to give 60 days notice. In my opinion, such clauses are unfair and deceptive, but unless you want to litigate the matter with no guarantee of success, you should give 60 days notice.

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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