Q: I’ve been looking for a new apartment. The leases that I have read are over 5 pages long and are full of a lot of legal terms that I don’t understand. What are the most important things I should look out for?

Reposted from the “Ask Consumer Ed” article of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection:

A: Your frustration is understandable. Leases can be overwhelming, even to those accustomed to reading them. Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs has a Landlord-Tenant Handbook available on its website (www.dca.ga.gov) that can give you some guidance, but in particular, here are some important things you should look for before you sign:

  1. Rent and length of the lease – While the landlord may have told you the basic information about the lease, it is important to get the key terms such as monthly rent and length of the lease in writing. This protects you from later changes in price or terms.
  2. Utilities – Leases can differ dramatically in this area. Determine if you are required to place the utilities in your name, pay the landlord for utilities, or if they are included in the rent. This can have drastic impacts on the cost of the apartment, so you need to know upfront what you are obligated to pay.
  3. Security deposit – Most apartments require a security deposit when signing the lease. Find out how much this is and what will be deducted when you move out. Most landlords conduct an inspection before you move in and after you move out to check for damages and deduct the repair costs from the deposit.
  4. Termination and renewal procedures – The lease should state what happens at the end of the lease term. This includes the deadlines and procedures for notifying the landlord that you are either moving out or extending your lease. Be aware of any automatic rent increases that occur if you decide to renew the lease.
  5. Subletting and Subleasing – It is important to know whether you have the ability to leave the

apartment before the lease is up. Leases are often commitments for a year or more and landlords have different rules regarding your ability to lease to another person should your circumstances change.

6. Pets – Some landlords do not allow pets, while others may restrict the number, size or type of pets permitted. Many will charge a pet deposit, which may or may not be refundable. Make sure you are clear about these terms and have budgeted for any additional deposit due.

7. Renter’s Insurance – Remember that your landlord’s insurance does not cover your belongings, only the building itself. If your furniture or belongings are damaged due to fire, theft, or a natural disaster, you’ll be out of luck if you don’t have renter’s insurance. The good news is that renter’s insurance is very affordable, and you can generally purchase it from the same company that insures your vehicle.

Even though a lease can be long and complicated, you should always read it thoroughly before signing it. Be wary of a landlord who seems in a rush for you to sign before you’ve read through the entire document. If you cannot understand the terms of the lease, have someone who is familiar with lease agreements, or an attorney, review it with you to make sure that you fully understand what you are agreeing to before you sign the lease. Do not leave any blanks to be filled in later. Either get them filled in or cross through them, initial each cross-out and have the landlord do so also. Finally, insist upon getting your own copy of the lease, and save it so that you can review your rights and responsibilities should a dispute ever arise.

Avoid Auto Sale Fraud

Each year, thousands of people are victims of auto sale fraud in the United States. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center estimates that nearly 14,000 complaints were made from consumers that were victimized by online auto scams from 2008-2010 across the country. The total dollar amount added up to nearly $44.5 million in the same time period. And this number does not include those who fell victim to scams in person, either by a dealership or private individual.

Consumer Protection for Car Buyers

Buying a vehicle is an expensive transaction. When you add in financing, leasing, tax and title payments, down payments and trade-ins, it can become complicated quickly. Car salesmen want to make sure you feel like you are getting a good deal, but often that isn’t the case. If you feel like you have been the victim of an auto sale scam, contact the Atlanta consumer protection attorneys today.

Here are a few tips for avoiding auto sales fraud:

  • Each year, millions of automobiles are damaged in crashes and floods. While insurance companies may deem these vehicles totaled, they often being fixed and sold at auction. You do not want to unknowingly purchase a totaled vehicle. Be sure to get the car inspected by a mechanic and body shop before you purchase the vehicle. It’s also important to check out the vehicle ID number (VIN) and get a vehicle history report.
  • Avoid odometer fraud by comparing the odometer reading to the vehicle history report. You can also look at the maintenance and inspection records to see if the numbers make sense. If you have purchased a vehicle you believe has had the odometer tampered with, contact the Athens consumer protection attorneys at Hurt, Stolz & Cromwell, LLC today.
  • Most car salesmen want to complete the deal as soon as possible. If someone seems too pushy and it makes you uncomfortable, it’s may be because the person selling you the car is intending on committing auto sale fraud. Often, they want you to take care of the transaction as quickly as possible, so you don’t have time to think about it and back out. If you feel uneasy about a transaction, trust your instincts and make sure you get the vehicle checked out before moving forward.

Unfortunately, auto sale scams are common in Georgia. If you feel like you have been a victim of auto sale fraud it is important to have someone who will fight for your rights. Georgia law protects consumers and an experienced consumer protection attorney can navigate the complex legal system and work hard to get a favorable outcome in your case.

A Consumer Protection Bill With Too Many Unknowns Rejected by the State House Banking Committee

Athens, Georgia Consumer Protection Attorney Jimmy Hurt Speaks to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Regarding HB 465

The state House banking committee’s decision to reject HB 465, a bill that would have permitted “for-profit” debt settlement companies to operate in our state under rules inconsistent with Georgia Debt Adjustment Act (GDAA) OCGA § 18-5-1 guidelines, was a win for Georgia consumers. In a recent interview with J. Scott Trubey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), our attorney Jimmy Hurt weighed in on the Committee’s decision, setting the record straight on the attempted debt settlement bill.

While debt management companies and their representatives try to establish themselves in Georgia by painting rosy pictures, it’s obvious that all that glitters is seldom gold. Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors for debt reduction on the debtor’s behalf, in exchange for an agreement called a Debt Management Plan (DMP). The DMP establishes the amount to be repaid (the newly negotiated balance) to the debt settlement company at an agreed upon time period and payments. The debtor then pays into an account that is used to pay off the debt.

Unfortunately, company practices and failure to heed GDAA OCGA § 18-5-1 guidelines sometimes creates problems, including overcharges and/or slow payment to credit card companies. As explained to the AJC reporter, bankruptcy allows a debtor a fresh start whereas the track record of debt settlement companies is less than stellar and doesn’t offer typical bankruptcy protection from collection agencies, lawsuits, or garnishment of wages.

Opponents have long expressed concern over the high fees charged by debt settlement companies, including the “borrower education services” provision, allowing debt reduction companies to charge fees of up to $100. While supporters point to a stipulation that the first payment toward the debt must be completed before any fees are charged, they fail to set a cap on those fees, and since fees on other kinds of debt relief programs were capped in 2003, HB 465 would be at odds with existing law.

Has Your Georgia Debt Settlement Company Left You Worse Off Than When You Started? Contact an Atlanta Debt Adjustment Attorney to Fight Violations of the Georgia Debt Adjustment Act

Atlanta victims of consumer fraud should seek the advice of the debt collection defense attorneys at Hurt, Stolz and Cromwell LLC to be sure of the best and most accurate evaluation of their case. Debt management companies who violate the Georgia Debt Adjustment Act need to be stopped in their tracks so that others are not victimized and companies who are found guilty must refund all fees and charges, including fund contributions and, in some cases, pay restitution of up to $5,000.

We’re not out of the woods yet, though. HB 465 could be presented in the state Senate or, as is commonly done when less-than-popular legislation arises, attached to another piece of legislation.

In the meantime, consumers who have suffered because of mishandling and/or overcharging violations of the GDAA should contact an Atlanta debt adjustment attorney at Hurt, Stolz and Cromwell LLC to discuss whether filing a private legal action against a debt adjustment company is an option.