'Upskirting' is illegal in Texas

By Richard Alderman
March 8, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 7, 2014 at 9:08 p.m.

I heard that the Massachusetts's Supreme Court said taking a video under the skirt of a woman is not illegal. I don't understand how a court can say this is legal. Is it legal in Texas?

First, it is important to understand what the Massachusetts court said and did not say. The court was not asked to simply rule whether the practice of "upskirting" is legal. The court was asked whether a state law intended to prohibit "Peeping Tom" voyeurism of completely or partially undressed people also applied to upskirting. The court held that the clear language of the statute did not apply to upskirting, and that the Peeping Tom statute, which required a completely or partially undressed person, was not violated. My opinion is that the Massachusetts' legislature will quickly enact a new law that covers the practice of upskirting.

Texas, on the other hand, has an improper photography statute that does apply to upskirting. The issues that arose in Massachusetts would not arise in Texas.

In 2006, my ex-husband was ordered to pay child support. He has continued to pay on time. Since that time, however, he has changed jobs and is making much more money. Shouldn't he be paying me more for support?

He probably should be paying you more, but until you get the order modified, he has the legal right to keep paying as originally ordered. Either party may go back to court to have a child support order modified whenever there is a substantial change in circumstances. A new job with a higher salary should entitle you to a larger payment. I recommend you speak with a family law attorney about modifying the order.

I rent an extra room in my home on a month-to-month basis. If a tenant does not pay his rent, am I allowed to lock him out of the house?

Even though you are renting just one room, the law considers you a landlord, and you are subject to the same laws as other residential landlords. Under the law, a landlord is not allowed to simply lock out a tenant who does not pay rent. A landlord may change the locks on a tenant's door; however, the landlord must make a key available for the tenant to come and go 24 hours a day. In other words, you cannot lock out your tenant. If your tenant will not move out voluntarily, you will have to file an eviction proceeding in justice court to have him evicted.

I am getting divorced. My husband has agreed to keep the house and make all the payments. What do I do to get my name taken off of the mortgage?

You cannot just have your name taken off of the mortgage. The divorce is between you and your husband. The mortgage company is not a part of your divorce and is not bound by whatever you and your husband agree to. The only way to have your name removed is for the mortgage company to agree to remove it or to have your husband refinance the property in his name alone.

I owe a student loan from more than 10 years ago. They now are telling me that if I don't pay, they will garnish my wages. How long do they have to collect? I thought there was no wage garnishment in Texas.

Unfortunately for you, there are basically no time limits within which government backed student loans must be collected. Even though the debt is 10 years old, it may still be collected. Additionally, although wage garnishment is generally prohibited in Texas, wage garnishment for student loans is based on federal law that pre-empts Texas law. In other words, if you don't pay, your wages will be garnished. Under the law, you should be given an opportunity to make arrangements to pay before wage garnishment is used. I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity.

My son is 19 years old and has a full-time job. He negotiated a lease with an apartment complex, and they are requiring that I sign as a guarantor. Am I required to sign? Can they refuse to rent to him if I don't sign?

I cannot tell from your question if your son had completed negotiations and signed a lease, or if he was still negotiating. As you will see, this matters.

Basically, any landlord has the right to establish the financial guidelines for tenants. Even though your son is no longer a minor and has a job, the landlord may require a co-signer or guarantor if he or she believes that your son may not be able to fulfill his obligation to pay rent.

If he was told at the time he negotiated the lease that he would need a guarantor, that has become a term of their agreement, and if you do not sign, they do not have to rent him the apartment.

On the other hand, if your son had finished negotiating and signed a lease with the landlord without a guarantor, the landlord cannot come back and unilaterally change the terms to require your signature.

I signed a remodeling contract for $875 and paid in full. After the work was completed, the seller said he made a mistake, and it should have cost $975. I do not think I should have to pay the additional $100. What is the law?

The law regarding a mistake can be very complicated. In my opinion, however, in this case, the seller should stand by his initial agreement. I am sure that if you told him you made a mistake and meant to pay $100 less, he would not just give you back the money.

Generally, the law does not care if only one person to a bargain made a mistake. The agreement stands. The only time that a "unilateral" mistake (a mistake by one side) usually matters is when the other party knew about the mistake or tried to take advantage of the other person.

For example, if he just added wrong and you knew at the time you signed the agreement that the total was $100 too low, you would owe the additional money.

If at the time you signed the agreement, however, you believed that $875 was a fair price and that was how much you wanted to pay, my opinion is that you should not have to bear the risk that the seller made a mistake.

Can my wages be garnished for child support imposed by another state?

I am often asked the question, and the simple answer is yes. Although as a general rule wages may not be garnished in Texas, there is an exception for child support.

This includes child support obligations from another state. Most states have agreements with Texas making it very easy to enforce an out-of-state support order.

We own two homes. Our vacation home is paid off. My husband has a $15,000 loan that he has not paid. Can we be forced to sell our second home to pay off the loan? Can I just give the home to my adult child?

As you may know, your homestead (the house where you live) is protected from your creditors and cannot be taken even if you were sued. A vacation home, on the other hand, is not protected. If you were sued and lost, the creditor could force the sale of the property to pay the judgment.

Giving the property away to protect it from creditors generally is not a good idea. This type of a transfer would be considered a fraudulent transfer under Texas law.

This means the creditor could void the transfer between you and your child. My advice is to contact the creditor and try to work out a payment plan.

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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