Legal Corner: Does reduced rent absolve my landlord from paying - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Legal Corner: Does reduced rent absolve my landlord from paying for repairs?

Source: KPLC Source: KPLC
SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) -

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Question: I've been crossing over my neighbor’s land, with their permission, for several years to get to the highway. A business recently purchased the land, and it appears they are building a fence across the area I normally cross. Can I enforce the old agreement with the new owner?

Normally, verbal agreements regarding immovable property are not binding. So, any verbal permission can be withdrawn. But there may be other legal grounds for exercising that right of passage. Additional information would be helpful: (1) is the right of passage in the deed? (2) are you completely landlocked (no access to your property except over other’s property)?

If the right of passage is in the deed to the property, then that right is considered “by title” and permission to cross is not necessary. If it is not in the deed, but the viewer has no access to the property, they are entitled to access: Civil Code Article 689. Enclosed estate; right of passage: “The owner of an estate that has no access to a public road or utility may claim a right of passage over neighboring property to the nearest public road or utility.”

Note, it is not free. The owner of the neighboring property is entitled to compensation as well as payment for any damages caused by the use of the right of passage. So, it is not entirely clear if the road mentioned is the shortest route to the nearest public road, but in considering the location of a servitude, courts have often granted a path that has been in use, rather than granted a servitude establishing a new path. Some rights of passage can be acquired over time, but with no written recognition of the right (not recorded in the title), the time period of passage before that right is acquired is 30 years. See Civil Code Article 742. However, in the recently decided Boudreaux v. Cummings, 2014-C-1499, the Louisiana Supreme Court declared that the possession with permission does not count toward acquisitive prescription.

Question: My landlord said he won’t fix my walls that have mold on them because the rent is cheap. He said it’s $200 under the market value. I have to keep a bucket under the sink because it leaks so bad. Is that legal? Already pay $750 for rent. We live in Westlake.

The term to consider in this situation is “habitability.” Landlords have no obligations to provide a perfect or flawless dwelling, but they bound by what is known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” You can find this concept in Civil Code Article 2682, Section 2, which states that the lessor is bound to “maintain the thing in a condition suitable for the purpose of which it was leased.”

Applying the law to these facts – leaky pipes are a structural issue, and one that the tenant is not liable for. More importantly, as we all learned after Hurricane Rita, mold is not merely a nuisance but can be dangerous. So, habitability has not been provided here. The landlord has made an issue of the reduced amount of the rent. It is important to read the lease – if the lease actually states that in exchange for a significantly lower rent, the tenant is responsible for structural repairs, then that agreement is binding. But if the lease does not include that arrangement, the tenant can exercise the right to “repair and deduct.” That is where a landlord refuses to address a condition which renders the premises uninhabitable, the tenant can repair it themselves and deduct the amount of repairs from the rental payment.   

Question: My niece was living with a man in Texas, and they told folks they had a common law marriage. They are moving back to Louisiana. Will they be a legitimate husband and wife, since Louisiana does not have common law marriage?

This issue is a constitutional one, and is addressed in Article IV, known as the “Full Faith and Credit” clause regarding whether one state has to recognize legal actions by another state. The article says that each state must respect “public acts, records and judicial proceeding of every other state.” It especially becomes relevant in family law because laws of the states often differ. For example, at one time some states did not recognize interracial marriages; also, at one time, same-sex marriages were not universal. The Supreme Court later held that all state laws banning interracial or same-sex marriages are unconstitutional, so those issue are no longer relevant. However, common law marriages are still recognized in some states, but not others (nine states and the District of Columbia currently recognize common law marriages). And Texas – the focus of your question – is one of those states.

Answer: No, it is not true that the law in Louisiana does not “recognize” the marriage – as long as it is a valid and recognizable marriage in Texas, then Louisiana will respect – as the Full Faith and Credit Clause dictates – and the spouse will have the same rights and obligations as would if they were married in Louisiana.

Disclaimer: The information furnished in this answer is general and may not apply to some situations. All legal situations are unique. No one should rely to their detriment on these answers. Anyone with a potential legal problem should seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action or inaction. The answers provided are not intended to be specific legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created between the SWLA Law Center and the viewers of KPLC TV.

Copyright 2017 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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