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Here’s why it is important to have renter’s insurance

Richard M.  Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Richard M. Alderman
Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I live in an apartment. I pay my rent on time and I am a good tenant. Recently, a small fire from the next-door unit burned part of my apartment and damaged my property. The apartment owner says he is not responsible for the damage to my property. What can I do? I do not have renter’s insurance.
A. The apartment owner is probably correct. Simply because there was a fire in one of the owner’s apartments does not mean the owner is legally responsible for the damage to your apartment. Basically, for the owner to be responsible it will be necessary for you to show some “fault” on his part. In most cases, the basis for this “fault” is negligence. Under the law of negligence, an apartment owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the apartment and must act reasonably to remedy any problem. If he does not, and your property is damaged as a result, he could be liable. For example, if there was a problem with the electrical wiring in the next-door apartment and the owner did not properly repair it, the owner could be liable if a fire resulted and damaged your apartment. On the other hand, if the fire were caused by an accident outside of the control of the owner, or due to the negligence or carelessness of the tenant in that apartment, the owner would have no responsibility. The first thing you need to do is find out what caused the fire.
Unfortunately, you have learned too late the value of renter’s insurance. In many cases, no one is responsible when something goes wrong. Just as a homeowner should have homeowner’s insurance, an automobile owner should have automobile insurance, renters should have renter’s insurance to protect against situations such as this one.
Q. I tried to buy something and the clerk said they accept only cash or a credit card. Is it legal for a store to refuse to accept a check? I thought a check was just like cash?
A. When you buy something at a store, you are entering into a contract. You and the store determine the terms of that contract. If the store wants to accept only cash or a credit card, it may do so. In fact, the only “legal tender” is cash. Of course, you can offer to pay by a check and see if the store accepts your proposal. If it does not, your choice is to deal on the store’s terms, or shop elsewhere.
Q. I have a power of attorney for my 87 year-old mother. The nursing home where she is staying has started sending her bills to me. Am I responsible for her debts because of the power of attorney?
A. This is a good question and a legitimate concern. If they are simply sending you bills as her agent bills to pay on her behalf, you should not be concerned. You have no individual liability because you are named as her agent in the power of attorney.
On the other hand, if they are sending bills to you for her obligations, you need to make it clear that you are not a responsible party. The power of attorney gives you the right to sign documents and act on behalf of your mother. It does not impose any liability upon you for her debts. For you to be responsible to the nursing home, you must have agreed to pay. Unless you have signed something or otherwise agreed to pay her bills, you have no liability. I suggest you send them an email and get a written response regarding who they believe is responsible for her bills.
Q. I own a house. If I marry I believe that my home is still mine in case of a divorce. Is that true?
A. Your understanding of the law is correct. In Texas, property is considered “separate,” or, “community.” Separate property is owned solely by one while spouse, while community property is owned jointly. If there is a divorce, the court will divide the community property between the spouses, but separate property goes to the spouse who owns it.
All property acquired after a marriage is considered community property. Property owned before marriage, such as a house, remains the property of the spouse who owns it. In other words, unless you wanted to give your spouse an interest in your house, it will remain your separate property and would not be divided if there were a divorce.

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