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THE BLUE JEAN LAWYER: Get It In Writing

by Tina Seymour Demoran, Esquire

I’ve always heard that if you want something done right…do it yourself.

True, to a point.

However, you really wouldn’t want me trying to perform brain surgery on someone or building a house that would comply with any codes in any region of the country.

Let’s leave that up to people with the proper training and expertise.

However, I believe that there is a much more important premise that you can definitely hang your hat on:

“When you want to do business with a person, regardless of who they are, get it in writing before you start doing business with them.”

This includes family, friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your employer, customers, vendors, contractors, handymen, yard guys…

The list is exhaustive.

While getting something in writing sounds a bit like overkill or that you don’t trust someone when you are dealing with other people, rest assured that many of the consultations I’ve had with potential clients since I began practicing law go a bit like this…

“I want to sue this person.”

“Why?”

“I paid them to do something, they took my money, and now they won’t return my phone calls.”

“Okay, so, can I look at your paperwork related to what you paid them to do?  Contract, receipts, cancelled checks, anything you may have.”

“Well…..we didn’t sign a contract and I paid them in cash, up front.”

“Yikes.”

Okay, so I don’t say “Yikes” out loud, but in my head, I’m thinking that this is going to be a tough hill to climb.

According to the Statute of Frauds, if it involves real property (for example, a house, land, farm, a physical business location, etc.), if the work or the item will take over a year to complete, or it involves an amount over $500, if you don’t have a written contract concerning who is responsible for what, the type of work that is promised to be done, the amount quoted for the project/item, and dates regarding the issues involved, then you are going to find it extremely hard to prove that you have a case in court.

Yes, text messages, emails, physical witnesses to the work, contract, etc…can be used to establish that you have proof there was a case, but you’re leaving it up to a judge to decide on whether or not you have rights, and what those rights are, if you don’t have a written contract, signed by both parties, prior to the work/lease/project commencing.

Therefore, here are a few items to remember before you hand over your hard earned money or allow someone to have an item or enter premises that you own:

· If you are moving into or renting a place, make sure you have a written lease in place before you move in or hand over the keys.

· If you are planning on “renting to own” a place, get a WRITTEN Lease to Own Agreement signed by both parties before you hand over one penny of money or you move in.

· If you lend someone money…whether they be a stranger, friend, family member, etc., have a contract in place establishing that it is a LOAN and not a GIFT, the amount loaned, the repayment plan, and that they understand they can and will be sued if they do not pay it back under the terms of the agreement.

· If you are dropping off an item to be repaired, whether it be a guitar, clothing, item of furniture, an electronic item, or your animal to be groomed…get a receipt that outlines the item/animal left with them, the date you are dropping it/them off, and when you are getting it/them back…and how much it’s going to cost before you let them have your possession/item/animal.

· If you are buying something on installments or someone is buying something from you, get the terms of the installment plan in writing before they take possession of the item.

· Verify addresses and phone numbers.

· Verify the title on the vehicle is valid and the type of title it is….salvaged or a regular title…before you buy a car.

· Do background checks, when needed, including credit checks (with the person’s written permission, of course!).

· Don’t pay anyone in full, up front, for a job that hasn’t even begun.

· Talk to an attorney before you embark on any financial transaction that involves your family, your children, your credit record, your home, your car, your animals….you get the idea.

· Don’t ignore this advice just because you’re related to a person or you are presently in love with person.

· Never pay in cash…or get a receipt if you do.

· GET IT IN WRITING!!!!!

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