LETTER OF THE LAW

============== 2006-2007 ==============

The information contained in this Newsletter is a general summary of the law in effect in Massachusetts at the time it was written. It is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer who has had the opportunity to review your own personal situation. Under the rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court governing the conduct of lawyers, this may constitute advertising matter. Nothing in this Newsletter is intended to imply specialization in topic areas discussed here. Copyright 2006-2007 A. Joseph Ross.


SAVE YOUR STUDENT LOAN DOCUMENTS

(July 2006)

A woman who borrowed $300 in 1970 to attend college recently got a letter from a collection agency telling her that she owed more than $3000.00 in arrearage, fees, interest, and costs. She thought she had paid this off, but she no longer had her records.

In 1991 Congress passed the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1991. It eliminated all defenses to any attempt to collect a federally-guaranteed or subsidized student loan except proof of payment. Statutes of limitations don't apply, and you can be required to pay the costs of collection, apparently including the collection agency's attorneys fees. Amendments to bankruptcy laws in 2005 provide that any loan for educational expenditures that would be tax-deductible cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

It doesn't matter when you got your student loan, and it doesn't matter whether you paid it off long ago. Save all documents, especially any documents showing payment. Keep these records for life and make sure that they are available to whoever will administer your estate. It may be very unfair, but that's the law.

Copyright 2006 A. Joseph Ross


NEW LAW REQUIRES CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS

(July 2006)

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is extremely toxic. It results from incomplete burning of fuels. Each year many people die from accidental CO posoning. Under a new state law effective on 31 March 2006, every owner of residential property, regardless of size, which contains any equipment for burning fossil fuels or which contains an attached or enclosed garage is required to install CO alarms in every dwelling unit. A CO alarm must be installed on every habitable level except for a basement or attic that does not have habitable living space (family rooms, dens, etc.). On levels where there are sleeping areas, the alarm must be placed within ten feet of the bedroom doors. CO alarms are not placed in garages, but in the adjacent living areas.

Homeowners are responsible for installing CO alarms in their own dwellings. Landlords are responsible for installing them in every dwelling unit. CO alarms must be inspected, tested, and maintained annually and the batteries must be replaced annually. For rental properties, this should be done at lease-renewal time.

The law allows alternative compliance options in larger buildings with multiple dwelling units and minimal or no sources of CO inside individual units. This option allows the owner to target the CO alarm to areas which may be a source of CO. There are also hard-wiring, monitoring, and other requirements.

For most properties, CO alarms had to be installed by 31 March 2006. Owners who choose the alternative compliance options and notify the local fire department, and buildings owned by the Commonwealth, such as public housing units, are not required to install CO alarms until 1 January 2007. When a home is sold, the CO detectors must be inspected by the local fire department before the closing.

Copyright 2006 A. Joseph Ross


WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN!

(July 2007)

Information is power. When a judge, jury, or administrative agency hears conflicting testimony and must decide whom to believe, the party with the better preparation and documentation has an important edge in winning the credibility battle.

Many people have standard ways of denying problems, which they often make without reference to the facts. You can refute these denials with meticulously recorded truth. Your landlord may deny off the top of his head that you ever complained about a code violation. Your tenant may deny that you ever complained about the noise he was making. Instead of sputtering and complaining that he is lying, you can calmly open up your notebook and list the dates you called to complain, the people you spoke with, what they told you, and the times you called and left messages that were never returned.

Keep two separate logs: (1) A chronology of problems and communications with parties and (2) a chronology of costs. Include dates, places, persons present, who said what to whom. Keep your original log in a notebook that you can show the court. Don't make erasures or copy over your log. An unaltered original record may be admissible in evidence and is more persuasive than a cleaned-up, edited version.

In your log of problems and communications, write down everything that happens. If you have the same problem twice in an hour, write it down twice. If you call to complain, write down whom you spoke to and what you were told. If no one returns your call, write that down, too. For a running problem, such as noise, lack of heat, or repeated telephone outages, keep a log of each incident, each temperature reading, the time and duration of each outage.

Try to communicate in writing. Keep the originals of all letters you receive and copies of all letters you send. If you preserve letters in electronic form, make sure the documents have hard dates. It isn t very useful to print out a letter you sent a year ago and have it bear today's date. Keep all documents in order and in a safe place. Archive e-mail systematically.

In your expense log, record all the ways that the problem has cost you money. Some examples are certified mail; photocopying; repairs that you have made; the cost of eating out or staying in a motel; the cost of replacement services; medical expenses; wages lost if you have to miss work. You may be able to collect these expenses if you document them.

All this recorded information will be helpful to your lawyer in several ways: (1) You've saved us time by collecting needed information. (2) You've made us more confident about your case because a case which is well documented is more convincing in court and easier to win. And a case that is easier to win is also easier to settle favorably.

This information is not a substitute for individual legal advice. Copyright 2007 A. Joseph Ross


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