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Stores may limit who parks in their lot, but they must have proper signage


Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

The People’s Lawyer


Q. Does a store have the right to limit who may park in its parking lot? Isn’t this public property? Can I be towed for parking where I shouldn’t?

A. As a general rule, a parking lot is not public property. Nearly all parking lots are private property, and the owner of the lot may limit who may park in the lot. Whether you may be towed, however, is a different question.

Although a business may limit who can use its parking facility, it must follow state law to have the right to tow violators. Under state law, a parking facility must place the proper signs before it may tow a car. Among other things, the signs must be conspicuously visible to and facing the driver who enters the lot, located at each entrance to the lot. The signs must also contain the international symbol for towing vehicles, describe who may and who may not park, and, contain a current phone number that is answered 24 hours a day to enable the owner to locate the car. The bottom line is that a parking lot owner may limit who is permitted to park in the lot; however, it may only tow wrongdoers if there are proper signs.

Q. Can I still get a divorce and live with my wife for a short time even though my wife currently does not have a job or money to move out?

A. There is no requirement that one spouse move out to file for a divorce. I suggest you speak with a local family law attorney who will explain how the divorce process works.

Q. I defaulted on a credit car debt about ten years ago. I heard nothing about this debt until recently when I received a letter from a debt collector saying I would be sued if I did not pay or settle the matter. Isn’t it too late to sue me?

A. If you defaulted on a debt ten years ago and have not made any payments since then, a lawsuit based on the debt probably is barred by what is called the statute of limitations. This is the law that limits how long a person may sue. In Texas, the time period is four years, but the law is an “affirmative defense,” so you must respond to the lawsuit and show the court that the debt is ten years old. If you do not show up, you will lose no matter how old the debt is.

I suggest you let the debt collector know that you know about this law and that you believe the debt is time barred. You also may want to let the collector know you know about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Threatening to sue on a time barred debt can be a violation of this law, and if you sued you could recover any damages as well as up t0 $1,000 in statutory damages. My guess is that will end the matter.

If the debt collector does sue, however, you will need to defend the lawsuit. I suggest you then speak with a consumer attorney. Be sure to talk about the possibility of the attorney collecting his or her fees from the other side.

Q. I have lived with my boyfriend for almost seven years. People have told us that if we live together for more than seven years we will have a common law marriage. We don’t want to be married. Should we just live apart for a few weeks and then move back in together? How long do we have to live apart?

A. The good news is that you don’t have to move out, and you will not be married. Just living together for any length of time does not create a common law marriage.

To have a common law marriage you must agree to be married, hold your selves out as married, and live together as married. As long as you do not want to be married, don’t agree to be married, and don’t hold yourself out as married, you will not create a common law marriage.

Q. I have a small construction business. I have not been paid for a job. How long do I have to file a claim in small claims court?

A. Your claim is for breach of contract. In Texas you have four years to file a lawsuit for breach of contract

Do you want to know more about your legal rights? Visit my website, www.peopleslawyer.net

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