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Joint Leases: 6 Things to Know Before Leasing with Roommates

Nearly all leases will hold each tenant jointly liable for the entire rent no matter the dynamics of the apartment share.  It’s rare for a landlord to make individual lease agreements with occupants on a room-by-room basis. Even if your responsibility of the $1000 rent is $500, you are still liable for the entire amount to be paid in full every month and can be evicted based on any default of the rent.

Friends can be worse than strangers when it comes to financial disputes so here are some tips to protect yourself when entering into a lease agreement:

  • Make sure the agreement has a clause where the lease is assignable and transferable which will allow you to replace a roommate without breaching the whole lease. This clause will also help to replace a roommate who must leave before lease end.
  • Sign a separate agreement between roommates that explains responsibilities for rent, expenses and bills. This will not help you in an eviction proceeding, but it will allow you to go after your co-habitant for damages for the breach of lease.
  • Pay the same share of the security deposit based on your percentage of the rent.
  • If your roommate destroys their bedroom, the damages will be taken out of the communal security deposit. A separate agreement between roommates at the start of the lease to be personally responsible for any damages they or their guests incur will protect you and be useful as evidence in litigation.
  • Institute a system so payment to the landlord or utility is transparent and all tenants have confirmation every month when the rent or bills are paid. (Venmo, Paypal, Quickpay, etc.)  Do not just pay your roommate your share of the rent and assume he will pass it along to the landlord.
  • Don’t waste time when a roommate fails to pay the rent. Take steps right away (notify landlord, discuss with the breaching roommate and ask the roommate if they are willing to simply move out so you can search for a new roommate or prepare for litigation).

Don’t put your head in the sand when it comes to roommate issues.  Be proactive and protect yourself!

Small Business Marketing: 5 Laws To Follow Online

You are building the small business of your dreams but it can turn into a nightmare if you don’t follow the law. Here are some common pitfalls and ways to avoid them.

Be Careful: Using Fonts, Images, or Music You Didn’t Create

You need to license fonts for web and print use unless they are open source. Try a free font site like fontsquirrel.com. Photos and illustrations found on the web are not free for the taking. These images are protected even if they haven’t been officially registered for copyright. Try using a subscription image stock service like Shutterstock.com to meet your needs for the first few months.

Watch out: Taking a song about love and inserting your own lyrics about your lawnmower business is not parody and is not protected by fair use. Parody requires you comment on the original work!

Be Careful: Using a person’s likeness when publishing promotional material

If you want to use a photo with someone in it, ask them to sign a one page model release. Do not use any photos, videos or pictures of a person unless you have their signed consent.

Be Careful: Infringing on Trademark

Do a search with the state records database to see if your company name or slogan are already in use. Don’t use protected trademarks in marketing materials. You should also file a trademark for your company name, slogan and logo to ensure that you are protected.

Be Careful: Sending Emails

You must offer a link to unsubscribe; subject lines must be accurate; and you must include a real business address.

Be Careful: Collecting and Storing Data from Customers

If you are storing customer data, your servers must be secured and encrypted. All hard copy of consumer information should be stored behind lock and key and in compliance with HIPAA laws. Allowing records to be released through careless business practices is a violation of federal law.

If your company’s marketing reaches children under the age of thirteen (intentionally or unintentionally), you must be complaint with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).  Compliance requires detailed notice requirements to parents, confidentiality of information, and a posting of a clear and comprehensive online privacy policy.

Failure to comply with the above recommendations can result in significant fines from the government, bad publicity, and dire financial consequences from lost business. Make sure your disclosures are visible and detailed and that you aren’t taking original work from others to further your business.

Engagement Ring Insurance 101

You said yes and now you’ve got a priceless piece of jewelry on your finger forever. You’ll want to protect this ultra important investment by purchasing insurance for your engagement ring. Here’s where to start:

  • From where? Purchase a rider to add to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance?
  • How much? Premiums are based on the appraised value of the ring (you can have th is done for a small fee) and should be between $1 – $2 for every $100 of the replacement cost ($8,000 ring should have an $80-160 annual premium). Things like purchase price, deductible and home residence of the ring-wearer are also factors in yearly premiums.

    Things to consider before insuring your ring

  • In whose name? The policy can be issued to the person who will wear the ring or the person who paid for the ring. Here’s the thing: the ring-wearer will know the appraised value and cost of the ring so make sure you’re on the same page before sharing that information.
  • New Ring or Cash value? Policies are specific to whether the ring will be replaced or whether there is a cash value that will be tendered. Review the terms of your policy before insuring the ring to see which option you prefer. Cash value may be the best method as fighting with an insurance carrier over a suitable replacement sounds like a worse nightmare than speed-dating when you were single.
  • Circumstances of Loss? Chose insurance that covers all instances of loss.. Unfortunately rings cannot be insured for sentimental value. Insurance is based on replacement or repair cost of the ring.

If you lose the ring

  • File a police report if warranted (theft, burglary, mysterious loss in a public place)
  • Notify the insurance company immediately (back this up by notifying them in writing as well).
  • Complete the application and Sworn Proof of Loss statement as soon as possible.
  • Provide the insurance company with the most recent appraisal of the ring and any documents they request.

Losing a ring is not the end of the world but letting an insurance disclaim coverage because your paperwork was not in order is going to feel like an apocalyptic moment. Put your paperwork in order and file timely everything with the insurance carrier and follow up until they replace your ring!

Legal Claim: Finding a Defect after Closing on a Home

Home ownership is part of the American dream, but it can easily become a nightmare if you purchase a home or apartment only to discover a serious problem after the sale has been completed. New York is a buyer beware state which means that unless the seller actively concealed a defect or prevented the buyer from inspecting the property, there is no way the seller is liable.  It is the burden of the purchaser of the property to inspect and use due diligence.

Defects You Might Discover

  • Termites
  • Wood-boring insects
  • Cesspool malfunctions
  • Structural issues
  • Wiring
  • Plumbing

Before you close on your house

  • Have the home inspected by two different companies to ensure that it is free of termites, wood-boring insects and structural issues.
  • If the property was recently renovated, research the contractor who performed the work to see if there are any outstanding complaints or if the contractor has a history of shoddy work.
  • Obtain a sales history of the property to see previous owners and purchase prices to ensure that you are not purchasing a flip.
  • If you plan on signficiantly renovating the home after purchase, have it inspected by the contractor who will do the job to make sure the property allows for the construction that you want to perform.

Legal claims after closing

  • The seller is only liable if they actively prevented you from inspecting the property or actively concealed the defect. If you feel you have a cause of action against the seller, you can file a lawsuit alleging fraud against the seller, claiming damages for the cost of repair and any costs that you incurred due to the fraud.

Pay additional for detailed inspections of the property to ensure it is free and clear of defects that will cost you thousands to cure after purchase.

Oral versus Written Contracts: Pros and Cons

In the course of business, it is tempting to take someone at their word without the written and binding formality of a contract. You should know: there are pros and cons to both oral and written contracts but for the most part, written wins!

Why oral or written agreement?

Oral contracts can provide ease, convenience, and flexibility for the day-to-day of your small business. Written contracts can take time, effort and cost, but provide for specific terms with little to no flexibility. If you intend on breaching a contract, it is better to be oral than written so your breach is harder to prove.  For law-abiding citizens, a written contract is always better!

You should know: in a court of law, a written contract will likely prevail over an oral contract and any changes to a written contract need to be in the contract.

Some contracts MUST be in writing to be enforceable such as:

  • Any contract for goods over $500
  • Any contract that can’t be performed within ONE year
  • Any contract involving land: leases, sales, sublet agreements
  • Employment – Specific agreements with non-compete clauses or terms where the employee has restrictions upon leaving the company.

Contract: Best practices for your small business

  • Draft templates (or Get Gadh App to do it) tailored to your business that allow you to plug in things like specific price, quantity and time of delivery for each of your transactions.
  • Contracts don’t have to be complicated. A cocktail napkin can be an enforceable contract as long as it contains a clear description of each parties’ responsibilities.

Get it in writing to protect yourself!

Getting Taken For a Ride By Your Mechanic

Taking your car in for an oil change always results in that dreaded phone call an hour later in which the mechanic tells you that your car is in awful shape and requires $500 worth of additional work. Then comes a lot of vague auto part references and mechanic jargon. Something about an alignment, system flush, hemi-adjustment, or your carburetor. Is this meant to confuse you into consenting to unnecessary services? Maybe. Here’s how to stay in the driver’s seat:

Before You Drop off Your Car At The Mechanic

  • Know your car: Based on the model and mileage, you should know what repairs are common and when. Do a little research to find out when tune-ups, alignments and new brakes are needed. Find out common issues with the make and model of your car so you can anticipate the repairs and budget for it.
  • Know your rights: No repair can be done without your consent so you are not responsible for a bill unless you specifically authorized the mechanic to perform the services.
  • Read your warranty: Know what repairs are covered by the warranty and be aware that dealerships will try to place blame on repairs that are not covered in order to make you pay the bill. The greatest one I’ve ever heard was the absolute conclusion that mice ate the wiring in the engine and therefore it was not covered by the warranty.

What Do When you Get the Call from the Mechanic

  • Get an Itemized Explanation: Ask to just have the oil change done today but request an invoice of what needs to be done with the car so you can review the invoice later on and compare pricing and get a second opinion.

Not all mechanics try to trick their customers into costly and unnecessary repairs but many will use pressure, coercion and your lack of car knowledge to have you pay for repairs that you don’t need. Be prepared and ready for their tricks and if it still goes wrong, you have access to Gadh – Lawyer in Your Pocket for $20/month, which is a heck of a lot less than your car repair bill.

10 Questions to Ask Wedding Rental Vendors

If you’re in the throes of wedding planning, in all likelihood you have considered renting certain goods (like seating, a wedding tent, a photo booth, arches, or a wedding tent). The easy part will be signing an agreement. The difficult part comes when you need those goods delivered on your terms and to the quality standard you want. Here are 10 questions to ask your wedding rental vendor. When you get the answer you want, add it to the agreement!

  1. How long will set up and tear down take? (This may affect your agreement with the wedding venue or wedding reception venue).
  2. Does the vendor own their own rentals or are they a middleman for yet another vendor? (This could cause unexpected quality issues). On the flipside, will the vendor deliver the items you have rented or will someone else? (This could cause unexpected delivery issues).
  3. Under what quality standards will you deliver the items? (Be specific in your agreement so it will be clear when the contract has been breached. Example: Delivery of 450 white, straight back folding chairs, model #123  in good and suitable condition at 3pm on Wednesday, January 11 to Wedding Manor delivery entrance at 123 Wedding Lane, New York, NY).
  4. Are items inspected or cleaned between rentals?
  5. What is your responsibility for rentals used outdoors? What if it pours? (Ensure a weather clause that holds the vendor responsible for wear and tear that occurs during the wedding).
  6. Does the vendor have insurance? (The vendor should supply proof of insurance with the contract).
  7. If something stops working (like a photo booth) what is the turnaround time on replacement/repair? Since replacement or repair seems unlikely in many wedding timeframes, what is their policy on a partial refund?
  8. If you need to request additional items will there be a discount or will extras even be available?
  9. Can you assign someone to speak for your or make decisions on the big day? (You will be busy!)
  10. Are there delivery and pickup fees?

If you’ve already been ripped off by a vendor, try Gadh – Lawyer in Your Pocket.

In Case of Natural Disaster: 3 Must Haves in Your Wedding Contract

A natural disaster on or near your wedding day has the potential to blow your carefully laid plans to dust or rain or snow. A weather event may require you or the wedding venue to cancel your wedding reception or significantly reduce your guest list. It leaves you beholden to your wedding venue for a refund. It is necessary to take steps to protect yourself in case of a hurricane, tornado, or Day After Tomorrow type scenario:

  • Confirm that your contract has an “Act of God” clause that void the contract in case of a natural disaster and entitle you to a refund. Expect the venue to push back on what the refund might include, especially if food preparation is involved and the venue will lose money.

Bonus Tip: If a disaster happens before your wedding, and the venue does not make repairs to reopen in time, this is not an “Act of God” and you can void your contract.

  • Add a rescheduling clause which allows you to use your deposit toward a new available date in the next six or twelve months. This is an easy out for both parties if the natural disaster is forecasted ahead or happens immediately before your wedding will likely still prevent travel.
  • Make the bulk of your contract payable a few days prior to the wedding. This way you can hold payment for the unpaid balance and litigate over the remaining funds already paid

If the venue refuses to issue a refund in the event of a disaster, you should:

  • Draft a letter to wedding venue and send a copy to the Better Business Bureau.
  • Use judgment in leaving a review on their website or any other site. Whatever you post can be used against you later on in litigation.

If you hear no response, sue the wedding venue in New York Supreme Court if the damages exceed $25,000. The filing of a lawsuit will show that you are serious and the venue will be forced to address the issue and respond or be found in default.

Don’t Drink and Charge Your Phone in Your Car

 

Woman using mobile while driving

To avoid a drunk driving charge, my best advice is drink early, drink often, and take uber. To avoid a dead cell phone, my advice is charge it in your car, unless you’ve been drinking. Then it’s bad news.

You don’t need to be driving to be arrested for drunk driving. A cop can still charge you with a DUI if you are in the driver’s seat with the car started but still in park. If you are desperate enough to need a phone charged and the car is the only option, do the following:

  • Always enter in the front passenger’s seat
  • Start the car from the passenger’s seat
  • Charge your phone quickly (falling asleep in the passenger’s seat intoxicated with the car started is going to require some explaining)
  • A car with a push-button start can only be started from the driver’s seat so you must stay away as you are risking arrest for a charge of your phone

Be smart and ask yourself whether a charged phone is worth the risk of explaining to police why you are not guilty of a DUI. If you must charge, follow the tips above and you can avoid an embarrassing situation.

Get Your Security Deposit Back

Landlord playing Ebeneezer Scrooge with your security deposit? A well placed demand letter from an attorney can scare a landlord into forking over what’s yours. It might not come to that if you follow these steps:

Your Security Deposit: What Your Landlord Can Keep

The landlord can deduct the reasonable cost of repair beyond normal wear and tear. There is a fine line between damage and normal wear and tear so you need to take steps to make sure you get a full refund.

Normal Wear & Tear Damage
Faded paint or rug from sunlight Murals on the wall or ripped rug
Water stains from a leaky roof Water stains from a window left open
Worn tile or lightly scratched tile Broken tile
Dust Abundant mildew or grime
Small nail holes and tacks Big holes in the wall from TVs or art
Worn laminate countertop Burns on laminate countertop

 

  • Useful life: You can only be charged for the remaining useful life of an item. For example, if you put a chip in a bathtub meant to last twenty years but it’s at least 7 years old, you can only be charged for the remaining useful life.
  • Modifications or leave behinds: Gather any written communication or voicemails that indicate any agreements to modify the apartment or leave behind furniture. Modifications or leave-behinds might include paint, tile installation, caulk, safety features, air conditioners, a kitchen island or any other upgrades.

When you leave

  • Clean the apartment and remove garbage and junk (especially things that will require difficult trashing or recycling like electronics, air conditioners, or large items). Avoid any improper recycling or trashing that will result in a fine to your landlord.
  • Take pictures of your apartment when you are leaving to dispute any part of the withheld deposit.

Timeline

Under NYS law, deposits should be returned in a reasonable amount of time after you vacate. After 30 days you should consider taking action to ensure your security deposit comes back to you. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania it is required that the deposit and interest is returned within 30 days of vacating.

Demand Letter to Get Back Your Security Deposit

  • After receiving a partial refund which should include some interest, you should cash the check and draft a letter disputing the deductions with any evidence. If the check comes with language that you waive rights to a full refund, you can still cash it but must immediately dispute the difference in writing and while a court could find
  • If not already received, ask for itemized list of damages and receipts from repairs
  • Ask an attorney to cite applicable laws. This will really scare ‘em!
  • A phone call to follow up and see if you can come to an agreement about the refund is the last step before small claims court. If you feel the landlord has unjustly kept the deposit, sue!

Sue to Get Your Security Deposit Back

You can file a claims in small claims court for up to $5,000.

  • Damages should be the security deposit or differential refund plus court costs and any reasonable attorney’s fees.