You Do Not Owe Money When Your Signature Is Forged
Q. My checkbook was stolen during a break-in of my home. Before the thief cashed any checks, I closed the account.
A collection agency is now asking me to pay some of the checks that bounced. Do I have any liability?
A. If your checks were stolen and your signature was forged, then you have no liability on the checks. The thief’s forgery of your name actually operates as his signature and he is the one from whom the collection agency should be trying to collect. I suggest you contact the collection agency, in writing by certified mail, and let them know the situation. If you filed a claim with the police, include the case number. (If you did not file a report, do so.) You should make it clear to the collection agency that your signature was forged, and that you are disputing any liability on the instrument. The collection agency may ask for some additional documentation; however, this should ultimately resolve the matter. Finally, check your credit report to insure that nothing has been reported in connection with the forged checks. If you find anything, dispute it with the credit bureau and demand it re-investigate and remove the incorrect entry.
Q. I wrote something on a blog about the candidates for President that my employer read. My employer told me that he did not agree with what I said, and did not want to work with people like me. He then fired me. What ever happened to freedom of speech?
A. There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to the right of free speech guaranteed in our Constitution. You often hear people say, "It's a free country, and I can say what I want." That is not exactly what the Constitution says. The right of free speech guaranteed in the Constitution basically means that the government cannot restrict an individual's speech. It has nothing to do, however, with a private employer's right to discipline, or fire, an employee. For example, if the government were to pass a law stating that you could not express your opinion on a blog, or try to limit newspapers or television stations from publishing editorials, it would be an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. On the other hand, a private employer may hire or fire people based on their opinions. Unless you have an employment contract, an employer may fire you at will. As long as the employer does not unlawfully discriminate, for example, firing you based on race, sex, age or religion, it can fire you for almost any reason.
Q. Does a landlord have to disclose anything to a possible tenant? I just rented an apartment and discovered that the tenant above me practices the drums at night. I also learned that this was the reason the former tenant move out. Do I have any legal rights?
A. First, under the law, the landlord owes you a duty to allow you to reasonably enjoy your apartment. If the upstairs tenant practices drums at unreasonable hours and disturbs your use of the apartment, my opinion is that the landlord has an obligation to quiet the drummer or remove him. Also, under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act [DTPA], a landlord has a duty to disclose known facts that would matter to an ordinary tenant. As far as I am concerned, not disclosing the reason the former tenant moved out and the fact that the upstairs tenant practiced drums is a violation of this law. Under the DTPA, you are entitled to up to three times your damages, and may be allow you to get out of your lease. I suggest you let the landlord know you know your rights and hopefully you can work things out.
Q. I have a common law marriage in Texas. My husband and I will soon be moving to another state. Will we still be married in that state?
A. As I have said many times before, a common law marriage is no different than any other form of marriage. Once you are married, you are married, just as if you had a formal ceremony in a church or before a justice of the peace. When you move to another state your status as being married remains intact. To make it easier for your marriage to be recognized in another state, however, you may want to file a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the County Clerk.
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