Has Your Tenant Demanded that You Allow Her Pet Llama to Move in as Well?

Being a landlord in New Jersey is fraught with both risk and reward.  The ADA laws are vast and can confound even the most experienced landlord, but what if you are threatened with a lawsuit for denying a Tenant’s pet llama?

For starters you should know the difference between The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA). The FHA created a right for disabled persons to live in the housing of their choice.  Recently, emotional support animals have been included in the reasonable living standards guaranteed under FHA.  Emotional support animals are not to be confused with service animals protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Service animals are much more protected than emotional support animals.  Even asking too many questions to a person with a service animal can result in large fines.  The two questions a landlord can ask a tenant with a service animal under the ADA are:

1) Is the animal required because of a disability?

2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform

Beyond those questions your inquiry about the disability and reason for the service animal is off-limits.  However, do not confuse a service animal with an emotional support animal because the protections are not nearly as sweeping.

A tenant, or proposed tenant, with an emotional support animal will probably flash a letter or a certification from either a doctor or support group asking the tenant be allowed to have his or her emotional support animal with them in places you would not suspect, such as a llama in the grocery store, or a turtle at the movies.  After asking the two questions above and hearing that the animal is an emotional support animal, business owners have the discretion to either allow the emotional support animal on premises, or deny admission.

There are two areas where emotional support animals have been specifically allowed: specifically pursuant to the FHA and the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACA”).  Both a landlord and an airline have to allow persons with disabilities to have their emotional support animals with them.  But outside the FHA and ACA, no matter how much a person needs their cuddly pet squirrel in the restaurant, the owner can legally deny them access.  Public concerns, as well as the rights of the business owners trump in the case of the emotional support animals.

So keep in mind the rights afforded to owners with service animals are close to absolute, while a business owner’s rights trump those of the owner of an emotional support animal. If you are a landlord or business owner faced with a tenant or customer with that llama on a leash, Bergmann & Good is uniquely qualified to help you sort out the “do’s and dont’s.”  Give us a call.

Identify Theft From a Barcode? You’d Better Read On…

We’ve all seen what looks like junk mail in our mailbox.  It looks like a generic mailing, with an external barcode.  But what’s in that barcode?  Well, your personal account information just might be right there on the front of your mail, for anyone to see.

Most often the mail will such offending barcodes will be from a debt collector.  The issue was addressed last year when the Third Circuit ruled in Douglas v. Convergent Outsourcing that finding a debtor’s account number on the outside of an envelope is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).    In Douglas, the Plaintiff received a letter from a debt collector.  Visible on the face of the envelope was the Plaintiff’s name and address, following a sequence of numbers reflecting the Plaintiff’s account number.  This number was not from the company which the debt was owed, but from the company which was collecting the debt. Notably the Plaintiff’s name, address, and account number were printed on the letter and visible through the transparent window of the envelope.

Section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA limits the language and symbols that debt collector may place on envelopes it sends to consumers.  According to the language of 1692f(8), a debt collector may only display its address on an envelope to a debtor. The Court in Douglas found that anything on the face of an envelope, even if printed on the letter and seen through the transparent window of an envelope, is still part of the envelope in accordance with 1692f(8).    Further the Court found that displaying a consumer’s account number on the face of the envelope is in violation of the FDCPA.

Following this ruling, a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled that embedding a debtor’s account number in a bar code on the face of an envelope is also in violation of the FDCPA. All you need is a smartphones and an identity thief to scan the barcode, retrieve the imbedded and then misusing your personal information.  There are free smartphone apps which allow anyone to access your personal information.

The FDCPA was designed to protect the consumer, you, from aggressive and sloppy actions of debt collectors. If you have received mail from a debt collector displaying information other than the debt collector’s address on the face of the envelope, contact Bergmann & Good us to discuss the available options.

Top 5 Reasons You Need a Business Lawyer

Not sure if a business lawyer is the right move?  Running a business is hard enough. Don’t make things even more difficult.  Here are 5 reasons why hiring a business lawyer could pay off.

1) Not having a lawyer might cost you.  You are a young business, cutting costs and pinching pennies to make things work.  Your business is running smoothly until you get a notice from the state ordering you to comply with a regulation you’ve did not know existed.  Now you have a problem that could get expensive quickly.  Hiring a business lawyer BEFORE that notice arrives could prevent that notice from ever appearing in your mailbox.  This leads to the second reason…

2) Avoiding problems is far less expensive than fixing them.  A good business lawyer can spot potential pitfalls for a business before that problem even arises.  The cost to avoid a problem is minimal compared to the alternative.

3) The law is complicated.  What is a pleading? Why am I being sued?  Why are there so many rules and regulations?  The law can be very complicated – and time consuming.  Having a business lawyer on your “team” and familiar with both you, your tolerance for risk and your industry can keep your business out of litigation in the first place.  In the unfortunate instance a lawsuit does arrive, having a business lawyer on your “team” may allow you to quickly right the ship rather than be shopping for a lawyer, with a lawsuit in hand.  You are good at running your business, let your business lawyer handle your legal issues.

4) Chances are, your competition has a business lawyer.  Business lawyers don’t just cost you money – a good business lawyer will give you an edge in running your business as efficiently as possible.  If your competition has a business lawyer, it is likely they are many steps ahead of you.

5)  What Will a Consultation Cost Me?  Good business lawyers do not charge for an initial consultation.  After all, it should be a relationship you are developing.  You would not work with service providers you do not like or respect.  Your business lawyer is no different than the others.  An initial consultation allows you both to meet each other and explore the possibility of a long-term relationship. Find someone willing to sit down and discuss you, your business and your goals and you may just learn that your business cannot afford to be without a business lawyer.