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Frequently Asked Questions
The information on these pages is designed to give you an overview of the law on certain consumer law subjects. It is not intended to be legal advice. If you have a problem concerning one of these issues, you should contact an attorney for help tailored to your particular situation.
How do I receive help and am I eligible? A person becomes a client of ours by applying for our assistance, being accepted as a new client and signing a retainer. In order to be accepted, you must be financially eligible or 60 years old or older and reside in our service area. Financial eligibility is determined by comparing family size, annual income and other family resources to the annual poverty line as published by the federal government. This process starts by contacting any one of our offices to apply.Once you become one of our clients, your problem is assigned to one of our attorneys or paralegals based on the nature of your legal problem and availability of staff.
I believe I was refused an apartment because of my race, what can I do? The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race or color, religion, national origin, gender, family status (having children living with you) and disability. Other forms of discrimination are not covered by this law. It is illegal to refuse to rent property, refuse to negotiate fairly, discriminate in advertising or in the terms or conditions of the housing if the basis for the discrimination is one of the above. Screening should be on a case-by-case basis, not an automatic application of a set of criteria and it must abide by the Fair Housing Act. There are several legal things which landlords may screen for including poor housekeeping that will damage the unit or interfere with other tenants, a relevant poor rent payment history, a credit history reflecting an inability to pay rent and a criminal history that will affect the tenancy. In subsidized housing, tenants must be screened for income eligibility although there is no asset ceiling. There are no longer any "universal" housing preferences, but individual housing authorities may adopt their own rules for who will get priority for the limited number of units available. Additional screening will take place according to unit size. No matter how badly the tenant may want to rent the unit, if the size of the unit is inadequate or wasteful for the size of the tenant's family, screening is appropriate.
If you think you have been the subject of illegal housing discrimination, you can call HUD at (800) 498-9371 or Louisiana's Department of Justice at (225) 342-7900.
I am looking into renting a home but it needs certain repairs, how can I protect myself and my deposit? The time to begin work on getting back your security deposit on a rented home is the day you move in. At that time, you should walk through the space with the landlord. Take notes about the condition of the unit, any carpet tears, nail holes and such. You and the landlord should agree on the list, each sign it and each keep a copy. If you can't agree on the condition when you move in, it is unlikely you will agree when you move out. Most apartment complexes have forms for such inspections. If your landlord doesn't have one, make up your own with a separate place for each room. Note the condition of the ceiling, walls, floors and furnishings. This will protect you from a claim that you damaged something when it was really damaged before you moved in.
I am renting a house and my landlord continues to store materials in the storage house, should he be able to do that? In exchange for paying the rent on time, the tenant gets the right to use the property. This right belongs to the tenant, to the exclusion of the landlord. The tenant also gets to have his possession without interruption and it is the landlord's obligation to enforce this tenant's right. The landlord may have the rent or the possession of the property, but not both. Once the landlord sells the use of the property to the tenant, he is only entitled to get the rent. He no longer has the right to use the property. The landlord has to give up possession of the property to the tenant. He must give the tenant exclusive use for a specific period of time. It is also the landlord's duty to assure that the tenant gets to possess the property in peace, free from disturbances by third parties.
My landlord refuses to make the necessary repairs need although I have always paid the rent on time, what can I do? At the start of the lease, it is the landlord's duty to deliver the property to the tenant in good shape, make certain repairs, and perform routine maintenance and not needing any repairs. It is the landlord's duty to. The lease may specify what the landlord will fix and what the tenant will be expected to repair. The landlord is obligated to comply with the lease and laws. If he does not, the tenant has the right to go to court to enforce the lease. Once the lease is underway, the landlord is primarily responsible for maintenance. The main exception to this rule is that the tenant must repair any damage he (or his family or guest) causes. The tenant must return the property at the end of the lease in the same condition as he got it, subject only to normal wear and tear. The tenant has the right to have the property maintained by the landlord. This includes the right to have the landlord make all necessary repairs, the tenant's right to make the repairs himself if the landlord refuses and to deduct the cost from the rent due to the landlord.
The tenant can sue to have the landlord comply with the terms of the lease. The landlord must protect the tenant's right to peaceful possession of the property. A lease may give a tenant added rights.
Can I withhold part of my payment since the landlord has refused to make the necessary repairs? If a landlord refuses to make repairs, the tenant does not have the right to withhold the rent, but Louisiana law does give the tenant the right to "repair and deduct". In order to exercise this right, the tenant must first notify the landlord of the needed repairs (preferably in writing) and give him a reasonable time to do so. The tenant must advise the landlord that if the repairs are not timely made, he intends to have the repairs made himself and deduct the cost from the rent. If the landlord still does not make the repairs, the tenant may pay someone to fix the problems, keep the receipts and take the deduction. If the repair is very costly, the right may be useless because the tenant may be unable to afford to pay for it. It is also dangerous for a tenant to exercise this right because unless there is a long-term lease, the landlord might try to evict the tenant later as punishment.
If the property is partially destroyed during the lease, the tenant gets a reduction in the rent or he may choose to cancel the lease if it would be too inconvenient to wait for the repairs to be completed. If the property gets totally destroyed, the lease is at an end.
If a tenant in property with a government subsidy damages the property, the landlord may try to collect for the damages from the agency giving the subsidy.
I would like to live in a larger home but I am struggling financially is there assistance available for housing? There are many different types of subsidized housing, including Public Housing, Section 8 and Rural Rental Housing. Each has its own set of rules. If the tenant lives in subsidized housing, he has a right to discuss any disputes with the landlord and in some cases, to have an impartial person decide these disputes. Some subsidized tenants also have the right to renew their leases. The right not to be evicted without good reason is a valuable right that only some subsidized tenants enjoy. The principal duty of a tenant is to pay the rent according to the terms of the lease. This means paying the full amount, not partial payments and paying it when it is due. In subsidized housing the tenant's rent is based on his income, family size and expenses. Each lease will say when the rent is due. Although a landlord does not have to accept partial or late payments, if a landlord makes a practice of doing so, this practice may have more force than the written lease.
The tenant has to take care of the property as any good caretaker would and to make certain repairs. In addition to paying for any damages caused by his family or guests, the general laws in Louisiana say that the tenant must pay for repairs to the lower part of interior walls and windows broken by accident. The lease may change these terms. Tenants must abide by any other lease terms to which they have agreed. Those renting in apartment complexes frequently receive a set of "house rules" that are part of the lease. Tenants who receive a government subsidy must report changes in their household income or composition.
Can my landlord charge a late fee although I was only two days late? If rent is due on the first of the month, it becomes late at midnight on the first. Landlords do not have to accept late or partial rent, but may accept it if they want to. Some leases provide for a "late charge" if rent is paid late. This charge is at the option of the landlord and is not required by law. The presence of a late fee clause in the lease does not prevent a landlord from choosing to evict the tenant instead.
Tenants who think they might be late with the rent are better off talking to the landlord in advance about the difficulty. Most landlords are only interested in collecting the rent the tenant has promised to pay, will appreciate the notice and will work with the tenant to get over temporary financial difficulties. Failing to pay the rent on time or discuss the matter with the landlord will usually cause the landlord to file for eviction more quickly.
I am ready to move out of my apartment to a larger home, how much notice do I have to give my current landlord? When you are ready to move out, give the landlord plenty of advance notice. Most leases require thirty days notice or more notice by the tenant. After you've got the apartment cleaned up, arrange a time for you and the landlord to do another inspection. Pull out your copy of the inspection the two of you made when you moved in. Make notes of any new damages and try to get an idea what things the landlord will want to charge you for. If the stove or refrigerator isn't clean enough, there's still time for you to do so instead of paying the landlord's workers to do it.
When you move, return your keys to the landlord along with a letter containing your forwarding address and a request for your security deposit. Keep a copy of the letter. The landlord has thirty days to either return your entire deposit or he may return a portion of it and include an itemized statement of how the rest was spent to repair damages to the unit. If he doesn't you may get it back in small claims court.
My landlord is trying to evict me what rights do I have? Although the laws heavily favor the landlord, there are some protections for tenants. In subsidized housing there are rights to certain meetings before the eviction even starts. These rights are valuable to allow both tenants and landlords to resolve misunderstandings before they get out of hand. The tenant will be sent a notice that the landlord feels the tenant has violated the lease in some way. It may be paying rent late, disturbing the neighbors or something similar. This notice will give some reason why the landlord wants to end the lease. Subsidized housing tenants will get more specific notice than will other tenants. If there is no government subsidy, this notice can be waived by the tenant. In subsidized housing, it has to be a good reason ("good cause") but in other housing the owner can end the lease without any reason other than wanting the tenant to move out. This notice will allow the tenant at least five days to move out voluntarily without the landlord going to court to get an eviction order. The landlord may not lock a tenant out of his property, change the door locks, cut off the water or remove the doors without first getting a court order allowing him to do so. If it appears the tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord may act to protect the property until he can get a court order ending the lease. Only court officers are given the power to throw a tenant or his belongings out of the property, not landlords, owners or maintenance workers.
My landlord is suing me for past due rent what are my options? If the owner thinks the tenant has broken the lease, he may try to evict the tenant and give up the rent, or he may file a suit for the past due rent and leave the tenant in the property. Generally a landlord can not collect rent for the period of time after a tenant is evicted. Should the tenant default, if the lease contains a specific provision allowing it, the landlord may accelerate the remaining rent due for the entire lease period. Most court proceedings to evict a tenant are filed using a quick legal proceeding called summary process. In this type of legal proceeding, the only issue is the landlord's right to resume using the property. The landlord may not demand unpaid rent from the tenant in this proceeding. A slower legal proceeding, ordinary process, is available if the landlord wants not only possession, but a money judgment against the tenant as well. The landlord is entitled to receive the entire rent on a certain date each month and may specify the place where it is to be paid. Landlords do not have to accept partial or late rent. The landlord may also set the term of the lease, either in days, months or years.
I believe I was turned down for a loan because of my race what are my options? When you ask someone who usually gives or arranges credit for a consumer loan, only your ability to repay should affect the lender's decision. It is illegal for a lender to refuse you credit based upon: your sex; marital status; age; race; national origin or religion. To make sure you are treated fairly, lenders can't ask questions about these factors. The law also controls how the decision about your credit application is made. You must receive a written answer within thirty days of your application. If you are turned down, you must be told why and allowed to see the information used to reach that decision. This gives you the chance to catch any incorrect or outdated information. Penalties for a lender who ignores these rules can be over $10,000. To make sure decisions about your credit are based on your ability to repay, companies that give credit reports must follow certain rules. Their reports must contain only up-to-date and accurate information. Generally, bad credit information more than seven to ten years old must be erased. You can get a copy of your credit report and review it. It will show who made it and who has seen it in the last six months. You can insist the company re-investigate inaccurate information or include your explanation of accurate information. Click here to read "Equal Credit Opportunity", a publication of the Louisiana State Bar Association.
I have been told by my creditors that my loan is now in default. What does this mean? In order to borrow money, you promise to make certain payments and to make them on certain dates. If you break either of the promises you make to borrow the money, you will be in "default" on the loan. This means that the person who loaned the money can demand payment in full. Most loans contain an "acceleration clause". It says that if you default on any of your promises, the entire balance is due, not just the amount overdue.
A family member wants me to cosign a loan for him. What happens if he doesn`t pay? If you co-sign a loan, you are liable for repayment of the entire amount of the loan. It does not matter if you got little or none of the money. When a lender asks for a co-signer, it usually means he does not think the original borrower is going to be able to repay the loan on his own. Most lenders are in the business of lending and collecting money. It should send a strong signal to you that the person asking you to co-sign for them may not pay off the loan and you will have to step in and do so.
I have been offered a loan with a 20 percent interest rate, is that a good rate? The interest rate you pay on a loan is determined by the amount you are borrowing, how long you want to take to pay back the loan, what the lender will get if you don't pay on time and the lender's view of the risk that you won't make the payments. Some consumer loans carry interest charges of 30% or more. This means that every year, you pay about one-third of the amount borrowed just to use that money. It is always a good idea to shop around for lower interest rates, just as you would shop around for the best price on clothes or food items.
You can tell what interest rate you will be charged by checking the Truth in Lending information.
FAIR DEBT COLLECTION
I fell behind in my payments and my creditor turned my debt over to a collection agency. The collection agency is bordering on harassment, what are my rights? When the person trying to collect the debt is not the person to whom you owe the money (or his lawyer), but is someone hired to collect the debt, you have certain protections on how you can be treated. For example, debt collectors may not call someone else about your bill except to find out where you work or live. They can't tell other people that you are behind on your bill. The debt collector is allowed to contact you by mail, phone or in person but may not call very early in the morning or late at night.
It is easy for you to stop some of the debt collector's calls. You may tell him not to call you at work. You may write a letter and tell him to quit contacting you. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter. After that, he can only contact you to advise you of the status of the account (they are turning it over to their lawyer or filing suit). Keep in mind that he is only trying to collect what you've already promised to pay. Cutting off communication with the debt collector may speed up a lawsuit against you.
Only certain acts are prohibited such as: using threats of violence; using obscenity or profanity; using the phone just to annoy you; or making false, misleading or deceptive statements. Debt collectors can not: say they are lawyers if they aren't; imply you've committed some crime; give false amounts you owe; give out false information about you; threaten to have you arrested, your belongings seized or your paycheck garnished unless they have already decided to do so. They can not threaten to do something illegal.
Within five days of first contacting you a debt collector must send you in writing: the amount you owe; the name of the creditor and the action you can take if you don't agree that you owe the money. You then have thirty days to tell him if you disagree with the debt. Once you receive proof of the debt, the collector can start trying to collect. If you owe multiple debts the collector is working on, you can decide how your payments get applied.
Click here to read "Fair Debt Collection Practices", a publication of the Louisiana State Bar Association
I bought a car from a dealer and I have had the same problem with the tail lights many times. Can I get the dealer to fix it? All used cars offered for sale by a dealer must have a "Buyers Guide" posted on the window which shows what warranty you will get with the car. If you lease or buy a new car which is out of service for thirty days or more or goes into the shop four times to fix the same problem, you may be entitled to a replacement or refund. You must still allow the seller a chance to fix the car, but the law limits how many tries he gets. The defect must substantially impair the use or market value of the car. Most manufacturers also offer an informal dispute resolution program. Click here to read "Is Your Car a Lemon", a publication of the Louisiana State Bar Association.
I am very deep in debt and I have considered filing bankruptcy. What should I know and what is the difference between Chapter 7 & 13? The laws and rules on bankruptcy are very complicated and change often. It is very unlikely you will be able to take advantage of all of the protections available to you without the help of an attorney. Most individuals file for one of two types of bankruptcy protection, Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a liquidation of your assets in order to raise money to pay your creditors. You are allowed to keep certain items you own in full which are "exempt", such as your clothing, dishes and bed. Items which you have mortgaged (either as security for a loan or in order to finance their purchase) are not exempt and usually must be surrendered to the person who holds the mortgage. If you are current on the payments on them mortgage, the creditor may allow you to "reaffirm" the debt and keep the item. When the proceedings are finished, you get a discharge from the court which declares that you no longer owe anything to the people you listed as creditors in your bankruptcy.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy (also called a "wage earner plan") allows you to make periodic payments on your debts and keep your belongings. You must have regular income to be able to take advantage of this type of bankruptcy. You and your attorney will prepare a plan that says how you will pay back the people you owe over 36-50 months. As long as you make your payments, your creditors can not try to collect what you owe. When the plan is over, your debts are discharged.
Amercia's Partner For Legal Justice – ALSC - Acadiana Legal Service Corporation.