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Generally, this Lifehacker article is pretty good, but I'd like to add a few things from a legal perspective.
1. Reading the lease is the MOST important part! The author hammers home the importance of doing this pretty well (as has this blog on numerous occasions), but I think this should be the first thing mentioned.
2. The second most important thing is to Keep Track of Everything. Before moving into the apartment take pictures and/or video and fill out (and keep a copy) of a move-in form*. Then when you move out, take more pictures/video so you can defend yourself against false/overblown claims of damage. This is the best way to get your security deposit back. Additionally, keep copies of all communication between you and your landlord (including the managers, employees, repair-persons, etc...). Email is best, but texts and voicemail are good too. If you have a conversation in person or over the phone, follow up with an email in order to keep a "paper-trail" of your communications. These recordings can be used to enforce your rights and protect you from unscrupulous landlords.
3. The title of the first section, "You Can't Pick Your Landlord", is a bit misleading. As the post explains, you can in fact learn about your landlord through direct questions to the landlord and their employees, and asking questions of current tenants. I would add that you should also google the landlord and/or the building. Read reviews with a grain of salt (generally satisfied tenants don't go out of their way to post things), but definitely read them. Also check your local property assessor's and/or rental license site (depends on what your locality has available). If a landlord has had trouble in the past with regulatory problems, fires, etc... you should know. So remember that you CAN pick your landlord, and you should make that an informed decision with some easy research.
4. Know how to get your security deposit back! This involves not just your lease, but, in many states, statutes as well. It's good to check with an attorney or tenants' rights group site to make sure you are protecting your rights.
*If the landlord doesn't provide you with a move-in checklist, then find one online. Also feel free to add to forms, change words, and add pages if necessary.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia released an opinion today which struck a blow against "Net Neutrality" by vacating the portions of the "Open Internet Order." Open internet is what you think of when you think of the internet - you can use whatever site you want and the data is made available to you regardless of which website it comes from. The concern with stepping away from "Open Internet" or "Net Neutral" internet is that it allows the broadband providers to functionally "edit" the internet. If they don't like a website (or the website cannot afford to pay them for premium speeds) they can throttle back the speeds which users can access the web site. And this has real world impacts because it allows broadband providers to hold websites hostage. Netflix is a prime example of how this could hurt the internet. Imagine an broadband provider decides to create their own streaming service for video. They could force Netflix to pay them money (or force Netflix consumers to pay them money) in order to provide high speed access to the Netflix website. Do you really think Netflix would last very long in that market? What about other innovative companies which face these new financial barriers to entry?
Which brings us back to the order. Why did the court decide to strike parts of the open order? Because the FCC had classified the broadband services outside of the "common carriers" and as a result has placed them in an area where they cannot be regulated easily. Now this can be easily remedied by reclassifying broadband services as a telecommunications service. You can petition the FCC to do so here.
While it is impossible to remove every trace of personal private information from the internet, there are imperfect solutions to the problem of online privacy and reputation protection. You can remove large swaths of information from the primary website sources which are available on the web. While these websites are not usually the same background check companies which are used by employers, and only certain information can be removed, it is still a very valuable service to an individual looking to maintain their online reputation. These background check websites are really data mining companies, and they collect lots of information about you which you might not know they have or which might be incorrect (Alexander Wainberg was listed as his own brother for a while on one such website).
Recently I became aware of two lists of how-to opt out of these websites (or limit the information available). One list on reddit is good but there is another page stopdatamining.me which appears to have a better list. As always, check through both lists but my primary recommendation would be the use of stopdatamining.me since it is likely to be updated.
Our Twin Cities Fox News affiliate recently posed an interesting question: In Minnesota, since we have a "cold weather rule" (landlords cannot cut off heat during the winter) , should we have a corresponding "warm weather rule"? http://goo.gl/zH3nm
Rather than not cutting off air-conditioning, the idea in the article is whether landlords should be required to provide air-conditioning. While it is true that there is nothing under current Minnesota statutes to specifically require it, I believe that there is a strong argument to be made that the implied covenant of habitability requires air conditioning when temperatures reach a certain level or when the landlord knows or should have known that a tenant is particularly susceptible to heat stroke (e.g. infants and the elderly). It would be a hard argument to win, and I am not aware of any solid precedent to point to, but just as central heat and plumbing once weren't standard and later became that way, once could argue that air-conditioning has reached that level (it's been standard in cars for decades).
The article does correctly point out that if a landlord has placed an air-conditioner in your apartment, then they are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance. It should be noted that this applies to central-air as well.
In reaction to the spiraling student loan debt rates (as of 2011 Minnesota is third is the county in average student loan debt per student, see the slideshow under this article: http://goo.gl/W26yb), many states are attempting to curb the cost of higher education. Some states are considering "performance" based funding mechanisms (http://goo.gl/7apvu). Again, rather than working on policies for fostering a better learning environment, legislatures are focusing on test scores and statistics (and colleges already have plenty of practice in fudging the numbers to beat the NCAA). Furthermore, providing additional funding in no way ensures the the costs to the students will go down.
While no state is tackling the problem of non-dischargeable student loan debt -- the returning and still undefeated champion of problems with the American higher education system that no politician seems to really want to fix -- there is at least one state seeking to bypass it for future students. Legislators in Oregon are proposing a "Pay It Forward" plan for higher education: college tuition at a public college/university in the state would be free, but the student then owes 3% of their income to the state for the next 24 years (http://goo.gl/QLErX). It remains to be seen whether this will actually pass, but if it does, it will be an interesting experiment. Assuming enforcement (collection of the 3%) is done well enough to continue funding the program (an admittedly big "if"), it will spread the costs of education out based on ability to pay. Instead of charging an investment banker the same amount as a social worker, it will arguably "allow" students to seek socially important but lower compensation employment. Wainberg Morrison will keep track of the progress of this issue and keep you up to date.
A criminal record expungement can convert the court records and executive branch records into private, publicly unavailable data. Restoring you to your situation before the criminal conduct occurred. However, there are websites that retain data for criminal background checks and if employers find that information they might react poorly to it. Interestingly enough, many of the online people searchers and criminal background checks allow you to remove your own records if you take the time to ask and follow their privacy protocols.
I recently came across a lifehacker article titled "How to commit internet suicide and disappear from the web forever." In it the author details some of the tools you can use to protect your internet privacy. Now, this is not an exhaustive list, and there will be some companies which could retain your records simply because you don't know about them or because they do not retain an internet presence. But the article is a great resource for enhancing the effectiveness of a criminal record expungement, particularly when it comes to companies or individuals who would do an internet search.
The highlight of the article was a bit of information about Delete Me, a web service that will act on your behalf to remove personal information from person searchers and background check websites. You can also save your $99 fee and do it yourself instead. They provide you with a how to instruction sheet and rate how difficult it is to have your information removed from the websites.
So, if you are looking to go the extra mile with your criminal record expungement you can try to get the information held by private companies expunged as well.
Disclaimer: I am biased as to this result. One of the last cases I worked on at Brandt Criminal Defense before starting Wainberg Morrison was this appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. While I am not the attorney of record, I contributed heavily to the final product.
The Schmidt v. Coons appeal concerned Minnesota Statute § 518B.01 and whether an Order for Protection (OFP) could be issued when the adult victim was not the petitioner. Yesterday the opinion was released and the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of limiting orders for protection to victims of domestic abuse. The Court’s reasoning behind the decision to reverse was based on the overall intent of the legislation to protect the victims of domestic abuse. I believe this was the correct legal decision, but more importantly I believe this decision makes tons of practical sense.
The reason this decision makes practical sense is because the decision does not prevent anyone who needs protection from getting it. This is because the definition of domestic abuse includes the fear of harm. So a victim of domestic abuse is any person who has been harmed or is afraid of being harmed by a family member. This leaves one category of person, non-victims, who have neither been harmed, nor put in fear of harm, by a family member. Basically, non-victims are people who do not need protection from their family. *
*The notable exception to this would be people who are as yet unhurt and unafraid of being hurt due to an inability to understand the danger. I.e. an infant. However, there are legal provisions for protecting vulnerable adults and Minn. Stat. § 518B.01 provides an explicit exception for filing on behalf of minors.
As reported here (http://www.twincities.com/stpaul/ci_20954571/st-paul-creates-buffer-slow-spread-student-housing?source=rss), the St. Paul City Council has created a "buffer" zone around the University of St. Thomas where property cannot be converted into "student rental housing" unless there is no other "student rental housing" within 150 feet (approximately 3 houses).
My main problems with this: (1) It singles out students over any other renters for this restriction based on anecdotal evidence that students are too loud; (2) It singles out University of St. Thomas students specifically over all other students living in St. Paul due to the location right near the UST campus; (3) It limits the property rights of owners to do with their property what they what; (4) It makes it harder for students to find housing, and will force many students to live farther away from campus, creating greater need for cars rather than bikes and walking; (5) It is a ridiculous law to enforce as housing can still be converted to rental property, but just not for students; (6) If people do not want to live near college students, then DON'T LIVE RIGHT NEXT TO A CAMPUS! (for peace and quiet and never having to hear your neighbors, move out to the suburbs).
At least it grandfathers in already converted property; and guess what, that means the Mr. Wilson-ish people complaining near campus who live next to students, still will after this is over. In the end I hope that this will lapse into non-enforcement and obscurity.
On top of reading Needles and Sins (http://www.needlesandsins.com/ the best tattoo blog out there), you can expect to get occasional updates on tattoos, law and your rights right here on wamolaw.com.
1. The U.S. Army is considering cracking down on soldiers tattoos according to the Military Times (http://www.militarytimes.com/news/2012/04/army-new-tougher-hair-tattoo-makeup-regulations-among-pending-changes-041412w/). Also addressing other issues of appearance, such as hair and shaving standards, the proposed regulations include: “Tattoos will not be visible above the neck line when the physical fitness uniform is worn. Tattoos will not extend below the wrist line and not be visible on the hands. Sleeve tattoos will be prohibited. (This rule may be grandfathered.)” This seems like an overreach to me, especially prohibiting sleeves. It not only raises questions of civil rights of soldiers, but throws a shadow over the strong and proud tradition of military tattoos. What a soldier does in their free time, especially in taking time to relax and recuperate from combat, should be protected. My friends and family who are in the military all enjoy their tattoos and should be able to continue to collect body art.As an aside, I would appreciate it if someone could explain to me the proposed rule: “Men will be authorized to carry a black umbrella with the Army Service Uniform.” I am just curious as to whether soldiers were previously not allowed to carry umbrellas in uniform, if women could but men couldn’t, or if it is a change from any color umbrella to black umbrellas. Also do those samurai sword umbrellas count? I hope so.
2. For those who haven’t already heard, Minnesota has finally followed many other states in bowing to pressure from the Red Cross in lifting the one year ban from donating blood after receiving a tattoo (http://www.startribune.com/local/148240865.html). While this law was once a good idea, and still is in areas of the world without proper medical sterilization, it is good to see this unnecessary regulation lifted. Donate now by visiting http://www.redcrossmn.org/index.asp?IDCapitulo=7K58A866M7.
I wanted to take another moment to discuss protecting your personal data on the internet. Lifehacker has a great article detailing what happens to your personal information while you surf. They also have a breakdown of different steps you can take to protect your privacy. You can also use the browser add-ons and extensions available at disconnet.me/tools to help monitor and protect your private information.