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Someone can assist you in justice court

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Q. I am 60 years old and my English is not very good. I usually get very nervous speaking to a group or to people I don’t know. I want to file a claim in justice court, but I am afraid I will not be able to communicate well with the judge. I know I can have a lawyer, but that will be expensive. I have a grown son who has said he will assist me, but I don’t know if that will be allowed. Can my son help me in court?
A. Ordinarily, the only person who can assist another person in court is an attorney. Since 2013, however, the rules in justice court are a little more lenient. In justice court, a person may always be represented by an attorney, but in an eviction suit an individual may also be represented by an authorized agent. A corporation or other entity also may be represented by an employee, owner, officer or partner. Perhaps the most substantial change in the rules, however, is one that allows an individual representing himself to be assisted by a person who is not an attorney or agent. The court may, “for good cause,” allow an individual to be assisted by a family member or other individual who is not being compensated.
This means that your son will be allowed to assist you in court, if the judge approves it. Not speaking English well and being nervous seems to be a “good cause.” I suggest you file and then request the judge allow your son to assist you.
Q. I know that a tenant is not liable for damage to a rent house or apartment that is “normal wear and tear.” Where can I find a clear guideline as to what is normal wear and tear? I rent a house that has slate tile on the porches. When my tenant moved in, he noted on the condition form that there were cracks in the slate. The tenant is now moving out, and some of the tile is completely broken. Is the tenant responsible for this damage? He says it is not his fault.
A. There are no “clear guidelines” regarding normal wear and tear. “Normal” is the wear and tear that occurs when an ordinary tenant lives there. In other words, ordinary wear and tear is the type of damage that happens simply by living in the house. For example, a few small nail holes in the wall to hang pictures, faded curtains, or a stove that needs to be cleaned are the type of damage you would expect after a tenant has lived in an apartment. On the other hand, a wine stain or cigarette burn in the carpet, a hole in the wall, or an appliance broken due to misuse, are not the result of “ordinary” wear and tear.
If the tile broke because of everyday use and foundation settling, it is ordinary wear and tear. On the other hand, if the tenants dropped a bowling ball or other heavy object on the tile and broke it, it is not. Bottom line—for the tenant to be responsible, the tenant must cause the damage by doing something a “normal tenant” would not have done.
Q. I was on a month-to-month tenancy. In January, my landlord and I agreed we would extend the agreement until October. Now the landlord says he wants me out next month. He says our oral agreement is not enforceable.
A. Your landlord is correct that as a general rule, agreements dealing with land such as a sale or lease must be in writing to be enforceable. But there is a big exception for residential leases. In Texas, a residential lease for a year or less is enforceable even if it is not in writing. If you and your landlord have an agreement from January until October, it is enforceable. Of course, you will have to prove that the agreement exists. I suggest you speak to the landlord and let him know you are going to stick to your lease and you assume he will also. You also should suggest he do a little research about oral leases in Texas.


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