New Laws in Effect in Texas as of September 1st, 2020

Unsolicited Nude Photos
House Bill 2789 says it’s now illegal for someone to send you nude photos you never asked for. The new law will make it a class C misdemeanor to send unwanted, unrequested nude photos by text, dating app, email or any other platform.

Late-Fee Bill
SB 1414, amends the section in Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code that regulates fees for the late payment of rent. The bill will prohibit the collection of late fees until any portion of the rent has remained unpaid for two full days after the original due date. As for what that late fee charge can be, under the new law it’s considered reasonable as long as it doesn’t go over 12 percent of the rent for that period.

Feral Hog hunting
SB 317 says that landowners won’t need a hunting license to pursue feral hogs that come onto their private property. It is still a violation to hunt without a license if, hunting without consent. The new law removes any reference to depredation and the exemption applies for the take of all feral hogs.

The new law only applies to private property, and is irrelevant of whether or not it is a paid hunt, although allowing hunting access in return for financial or other consideration still requires a hunting lease license from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Porch Pirates
A warning to those who have made a career out of stealing packages off porches: you could go to prison. A new Texas law set to go into effect Sept. 1 will make it a felony to steal anything considered mail, including letters, postcards, packages and other sealed items.

It’s a first-degree felony if you steal from more than 50 people, a second-degree felony if you steal from 20 to 50 people, and a state felony if you steal from fewer than 10 people.

If you’re caught and convicted, you could spend anywhere from six months to 10 years in prison. You could also have to deal with a hefty fine, ranging anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Alcohol delivery
SB 1232 allows restaurants, bars or businesses with a mixed beverage permit to deliver alcohol with food to homes or other off-premises locations.

Hazing
SB 38 redefines hazing in many ways. The first major change will be civil and criminal immunity for “any person who voluntarily reports a specific hazing incident.”

The second major change will affect how higher education institutions will be required to report hazing incidents to students. Schools and universities will now be required to send hazing reports to students at least 14 days before the start of each semester.

Under the new law, universities are required to include more information in annual hazing reports, such as when an incident occurred, the date the investigation began, descriptions of the incident and violations, the findings of any school investigations and the final sanction.

Lemonade stands
With HB 234, Children’s unlicensed lemonade stands won’t be criminal enterprises.

Cities and neighborhood associations will now be prohibited from blocking or regulating children under the age of 18 from trying to sell non-alcoholic beverages on private property.

Sexual assault kit testing
Texas is improving the processing and testing of sexual assault kits by enacting HB 8. This will establish a time frame for the submission and analysis of newly collected kits.

Law enforcement agencies are required to collect kits from medical facilities within seven to 14 days, and crime labs are required to test kits within 90 days of receiving the evidence.

The bill will also prohibit law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related to unsolved cases for 40 years or until the statute of limitations expires.

Minimum age for tobacco sales
SB 21 says that people in Texas will have to be at least 21 years old to purchase cigarettes.

According to supporters of the age increase, the law should reduce the risk of addiction.

Increased fines/fees for drivers
SB 2048 will kill the Driver Responsibility Program, which required Texans convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay an annual surcharge on top of criminal penalties and court fines in order to keep and use their driver’s licenses.

Drivers who’ve had their licenses suspended under the previous law will now get them reinstated.

All traffic tickets and moving violations in the state will be increased by $20 and intoxicated driver fines will increase as well.

Brass knuckles
HB 446 removes brass knuckles from the Penal Code’s definition of prohibited weapons, making it legal to carry.

Cough syrup
HB 1518 requires an age-18 requirement for the purchase of over-the-counter medicines containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, an ingredient which is abused by some teenagers to get high.

Postpartum depression
HB 253 requires a five-year strategic plan to improve access to postpartum depression screening, referral, treatment and support services.

Hunting/fishing license
HB 547 allows people in Texas to show digital images of hunting and fishing licenses.

Sexual assault
SB 1259 expands the definition of sexual assault. If a health care provider used “human reproductive material from a donor knowing that the other person had not expressly consented to the use of material from that donor,” it’s considered sexual assault.

School marshals
HB 1387 abolishes the cap on how many school marshals a campus can appoint.

You Can Sue Your Stalker

Are you being stalked?

The Texas legislature has set out a specific claim for money damages against a person who may be stalking you.  Stalking, or “harassing behavior” is defined as “conduct by the defendant directed specifically toward the claimant, including following the claimant, that is reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass the claimant.”  To sue successfully recover in a lawsuit for stalking, a claimant must show:

(1) on more than one occasion the defendant engaged in harassing behavior;

(2) as a result of the harassing behavior, the claimant reasonably feared for the claimant’s safety or the safety of a member of the claimant’s family; and

(3) the defendant violated a restraining order prohibiting harassing behavior or:

(A) the defendant, while engaged in harassing behavior, by acts or words threatened to inflict bodily injury on the claimant or to commit an offense against the claimant, a member of the claimant’s family, or the claimant’s property;

(B) the defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat;

(C) the defendant’s apparent ability to carry out the threat caused the claimant to reasonably fear for the claimant’s safety or the safety of a family member;

(D) the claimant at least once clearly demanded that the defendant stop the defendant’s harassing behavior;

(E) after the demand to stop by the claimant, the defendant continued the harassing behavior; and

(F) the harassing behavior has been reported to the police as a stalking offense.

If you live in San Antonio, Texas, or the surrounding metropolitan area, and can prove your claim, you can get a money judgment against your stalker.  If you are caught in this unfortunate situation, call my office and I can advise you in more detail regarding your rights.

Water Damage from Neighbor’s Property?

If you have suffered water intrusion into your home, garage, or property in San Antonio, Texas, your neighbor may be financially responsible for your damages.  Many states follow the “common enemy” doctrine which states that surface water is the common enemy of every property owner. Union v. Durkes, 38 N.J.L. 21, 22 (1875). The common enemy doctrine embraces the idea that because water is a common enemy, surface water may diverted at the land owner’s discretion, though the diversion may injure an adjacent land owner. Miller v. Letzerich, 121 Tex. 248, 258, 49 S.W.2d 404, 409 (1932). However, Texas is different.  Texas has modified the doctrine by holding landowners responsible for damage to neighboring property due to diversion of surface water.

Section 11.086 of the Texas Water Code provides that:

(a) No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.

(b) A person whose property is injured by an overflow of water caused by an unlawful diversion or impounding has remedies at law and in equity and may recover damages occasioned by the overflow.
Tex. Water Code Ann. § 11.086 (West 2017).

This means that if you have suffered a flooded home, garage, or backyard in San Antonio as a result of your neighbor’s landscaping, or modification of his yard, he may be financially responsible for your ruined carpet, sheet rock or other damages.  You can sue him to recover money for the damage to your property.  With all of the recent flooding and rainfall in San Antonio and South Texas, you may have run into this problem.  If you have, the lawyers at our firm can help.

Texas Tax Amnesty Program

The Texas Tax Amnesty Program will run from May 1, 2018, through June 29, 2018.

The Texas Tax Amnesty Program will, under certain circumstances, provide delinquent taxpayers with relief from penalties and interest on tax due. Tax amnesty applies to periods before Jan. 1, 2018, and only includes liabilities that have not been previously reported to the Comptroller’s office. If a taxpayer has been notified that a period or periods are scheduled for an audit review, or if they are already under audit review, then those periods are not eligible for amnesty. It does not apply to accounts which have been certified to the Office of the Attorney General, accounts which are presently in litigation, or accounts which have been reduced to judgment. Additionally, the amnesty doesn’t apply to local motor vehicle tax, IFTA taxes, PUC gross receipts assessments or unclaimed property payments.

Program participants can “wipe the slate clean” by filing past due reports, or amending reports that underreported taxes, without paying penalties or interest. You can also register for taxes that should have been reported, and catch up on those reports that should have been filed, without paying penalties or interest.

All state and local taxes and fees the Comptroller’s office administers are eligible, with the exception of Public Utility Commission gross receipts assessments. The Comptroller does not administer sports and community venue tax or property taxes, so these are not eligible. The Unclaimed Property program and IFTA taxes are not a part of tax amnesty.

Check out the Texas State Comptroller’s FAQ:

https://comptroller.texas.gov/tax-amnesty/

Received a Demand Letter or been Sued by Joe Hand Promotions?

If You Have Been Sued by Joe Hand Promotions Do Not Ignore the Letter, FIGHT BACK!

If you are a bar or nightclub owner and you got a nasty letter from Joe Hand Promotions saying you owe them big money for illegally showing the UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor fight, any UFC fight, or any other pay-per-view event then DO NOT IGNORE THE LETTER –  THEY WILL SUE YOU!

Even if You Showed the Fight Innocently You May Still be in Trouble

Most likely you showed or televised this fight thinking you paid the proper fees to do so; however, if you are a commercial establishment and you showed an event to your patrons, you have to pay Joe Hand a special licensing fee.  If you fail to do this you may be in violation of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 553 or 605).  This law provides strict liability against you (meaning the plaintiff does not have to show an intentional violation) if, by satellite transmission or the use of a cable system, if you show a closed-circuit event without proper authorization from the owner (Joe Hand Promotions).

Joe Hand uses Investigators

On fight nights, Joe Hand will send out an “auditor,” or private investigator, to how many televisions you have, which ones are showing the fight, how many customers you have, and what you are charging for food or drinks.  Joe Hand will try and use this against you.

Joe Hand Will Try and Foreclose Against Your Bar or Restaurant

They will then send you a demand letter asking for an outrageous amount of money.  If you ignore it, they will sue you and try and take a judgment against you.  They may very well be successful.  After they obtain the judgment they will attempt to levy on your bar or restaurant and you may lose your bar or restaurant. Don’t let this happen.

The Rutherford Law Firm Successfully Defends These Claims

Our firm has handled a number of these cases in the San Antonio area and throughout Texas.  There are good defenses to these claims and judges will listen to them but you will need a lawyer to defend you.  Call The Rutherford Law Firm immediately at 210-225-4200 if you have received a letter from The Law Offices of Thomas P. Riley, the Korn Diaz Firm, or any other law firm on behalf of Joe Hand Promotions.

Property Damage from Harvey? Why you Should File a Claim by Sept. 1

HURRICANE HARVEY: TIME-SENSITIVE NEW LAW AFFECTING PROPERTY OWNERS

The impact of Hurricane Harvey has been devastating to Houston and other parts of Texas. As we deal with the impact of the storm, we need to keep in mind our rights as property owners.

There is a new law that takes effect this week of which most people are completely unaware.

If you have property damage to your home or business – including from Hurricane Harvey – and you need to make a claim with your insurance company, take action BEFORE this Friday, September 1, 2017.

Why? As you know, the Texas legislature meets every two years. They met this year and passed House Bill 1774 which impacts the rights and remedies available to property owners under the Texas Insurance Code. This new law specifically applies to property damage claims involving “forces of nature” – such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, hail, wind, rainstorms, and wildfires. This new law takes effect this Friday, September 1, 2017.

To fall under the current laws which are more favorable to consumers and property owners, policyholders should send notice in writing to their insurance company that (1) specifically references their claim, AND (2) is dated BEFORE September 1, 2017.

Telephone calls are not enough. Put it in writing – mail, fax, or email. And, keep a copy of what you send.

To view the new law click here.

The information in this column is not intended as legal advice, but to provide a general understanding of the law. Readers with legal issues, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.

This article was original published at www.coveringkaty.com.

Protesting Property Tax Evaluation 101 (The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease!)

 

Protest Your Taxes

Although it is helpful (and recommended) to have an attorney to protest your property taxes, you CAN do it.  Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!  This guide helps explain the process of protesting your taxes and how to build and present your case to the Appraisal Review Board.

Difference between Chief Appraiser and Appraisal Review Board

The appraisal district is composed of two separate and distinct divisions or sections. One is the Chief Appraiser and his employee appraisers who actually set the values of properties for taxation purposes. The second is the Appraisal Review Board which is composed of volunteer citizens of the county who sit in panels of three to hear and decide a protest.

Notice of Valuation

In the first few months of a tax year the Chief Appraiser and his employees will set values of all properties in the county. These will be posted on the appraisal district website and can be searched by property owner’s name or property address. Once the property values have been set for the given tax year only those properties where the value has been increased will receive a notice from the appraisal district notifying the property owner that their property value has been increased. It will show the amount of property value for the previous year and the amount of property value for the current tax year as proposed by the  appraisal district’s appraisal.

Deadline to File Protest

These notices are mailed to property owners during the latter part of April or the early part of May of a given year. Once you have received this notice of increased property value, you have until May 31st of the current year to file your protest with the Appraisal Review Board. Please note that the protest is filed with the Appraisal Review Board, not the Chief Appraiser or his employees. There are a number of grounds upon which you can protest value of your property, but the most common of those reasons are you believe that your property has been valued: (1) above its fair market value or (2) unequally with the properties in your immediate area or neighborhood. Under this second issue, the substance of your protest is that your property has been valued in excess of the other properties of similar character in your neighborhood and you are protesting the inequality of said valuation.

The form you receive from the appraisal district (at least in the bigger Texas counties) will have a number of protest reasons on the reverse side and you can simply check them.

Valid Reasons to Protest

It is the experience of this writer, who having protested property tax values for the last 20 years and having filed more than 15 lawsuits against the appraisal district, your best reason to protest is that your property has been appraised unequally with similarly situated properties in your immediate neighborhood. As a general rule the appraisal district will always appraise the property at a value something less than what it will bring in a fair market sale so trying to protest that your property has been appraised at less than fair market value is usually a dead end for the taxpayer.

Hearing before Appraisal Review Board

Once you have filed your protest you will then receive a notice to appear before the Appraisal Review Board. Remember this entity is different from the Chief Appraiser and his employees. This is a board that has been established by law that is composed of volunteer citizens of the county.  The board sits in panels of three to hear and decide the protest. At that protest hearing you will be before three citizens who are judges so to speak, and an employee of the Chief Appraiser who will be your opponent. It will be your goal to convince the three citizen members of the panel that your property has been valued unequally compared to other properties similarly situated in your immediate neighborhood. You are given an extremely limited period of time in which to present your case and it is this writer’s experience that this is done to confuse the taxpayer and create anxiety on the part of the taxpayer who is not in a familiar sitting and who will have a difficult time trying to present his or her case to the three-member review board.

Preparing Your Case for a Protest Hearing (Do Your Homework)

The best way to prepare yourself for the protest hearing is to drive round your neighborhood in your car and look for houses you believe are similar to yours in size, structure, and value. Some things to remember are: (1) lot size, (2) lot location, and (3) porches, patios, swimming pools, and other items that may distinguish the property from yours. After you have found five or six properties that you believe are similar to yours in character, take color photographs of them (smartphones with camera and email capability work well  — email them to yourself so you can print them out.  Make sure they are at least 8×10 and in color). Make a note of the address of these properties and make certain that you have the photographs correctly identified with the addresses.

Next, check the appraisal district’s website (here is a list of all of Texas’ appraisal district websites) to do a property search and you can search for these five or six properties by address. When you find the comparable properties, you can find listed information such as lot size, square footage of living area, other characteristics and features of the properties, and the properties’ appraised values. You can then make a comparison of the square footage of the living area of these five or six properties to your property.  Do this until you find at least three or four properties that have approximately the same amount of living area with a market value of less than what the appraisal district is proposing to increase your taxes to.

If you are incline to do so you can simply divide the square footage of the living area square feet into the market value for the current tax year and that number will tell you how many dollars per square foot the property is valued at. Do the same thing with your property then you can compare all of the properties you have located with your per square foot value to determine whether or not your property is valued equally to the properties you have selected.

Once you have found at least three or four properties that are valued substantially less per square foot than yours you can then take an average of those lesser valued properties and argue to the appraisal review board that your property is not valued equally with the average of the three or four properties you have selected for comparison purposes.

Other factors that you can argue to the appraisal review board panel is such things as the condition of your roof, the condition of your exterior paint, perhaps a cracked slab or other defective conditions of your house which are not readily apparent to an appraiser who is appraising a property from an aerial photograph. If you have a substantial defect in your home or property you should get a bid from a local contractor to repair same and take that with you to bolster your argument that your property is not worth the fair market value they have assigned to you.

Do not be surprised or disheartened if the appraisal review board fails to accept your argument and decides with the appraisal district’s appraiser present in the room.

10% Rule

If your taxes have gone up more than 10% from the previous year, you want to seriously consider a protest.

Section 23.23 of the Texas Property Tax Code provides as follows:

(a)  An appraisal office may increase the appraised value of a residence homestead for a tax year to an amount not to exceed the lesser of

(1)  the market value of the property for the most recent tax year that the market value was determined by the appraisal office; or

(2)  the sum of:

(A)  10 percent of the appraised value of the property for the preceding tax year;

(B)  the appraised value of the property for the preceding tax year; and

(C)  the market value of all new improvements to the property.

Appealing the Review Board’s Decision

If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Appraisal Review Board you have two options. One option is to elect to go to arbitration.  If you do, you will have to deposit $500.00 with the appraisal district to pay your share of an arbitration. I have never ever heard of an arbitrator deciding in favor of the taxpayer.  The appraisal district will provide you with a list of arbitrators from which you can select one and I can assure you that all the arbitrator’s on the list make a living from deciding  appraisal district cases. Your other option is to appeal the case to the district court of the county in which your property lies, and if you elect to do that you only have thirty days to file your lawsuit in district court or the decision of the appraisal review board will become final.

If you decide to appeal to the district court you should most definitely hire a lawyer because this type of case is so technical that a layman would surely fail in such an effort without the aid of an attorney. The good news is that if you win in district court the appraisal district has to pay your attorney’s fees and court cost.

 

 

 

 

Protecting Property and Cash from a Judgment

Ignoring a  lawsuit could have very serious consequences. If you do not answer a lawsuit, it will most likely result in a default judgment against you. The amount of the judgment may include the debt, damages, attorney’s fees, court costs, and pre and post-judgment interest.

The following is a non-exclusive list of remedies a debt collector can use to recover a judgment.

Garnishment

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Yes, You Can Carry a Gun in Your Car in Texas

In Texas, it is generally illegal to carry a handgun outside of a person’s own premises. However, a person may carry, either open or concealed, in a non-threatening or alarming manner, a shotgun or rifle. However even with a handgun, in Texas, there are several places where a person may possess a handgun legally without the benefit of a Texas Concealed Handgun License (CHL). These places include:

  • A person’s residence or other real property under their control.
  • A person’s private motor vehicle or watercraft if the handgun is concealed, and the person is legal to possess a firearm, is not a member of a street gang, and is not engaged in the commission of a crime greater than a Class C misdemeanor traffic or boating violation.
  • A person engaged in lawful fishing, hunting, or other sporting activity on the immediate premises where the activity is conducted, or is en route between the premises and the persons’ residence or motor vehicle, if the firearm is a type commonly used in the activity.
  • While storing a loaded firearm, it must be in a place which cannot be accessed by a child under the age of 17, or secured with a trigger lock if there is reason to know that a child under 17 may gain access to the firearm.