The Legal Insider
In this issue:
Can You Leave Your Pet Outside When It Gets Cold?
Some pet owners wrongly assume that because an animal has a fur coat on, the critter is immune to wintry conditions. Put it this way, if a person puts a coat on, being out in the cold is a little more tolerable, but that coat won't afford much protection after prolonged exposure to cold or wet weather. The same goes for animals. It is not humane to leave your dog or any other pet tethered to a tree when old man winter hits.
In Pennsylvania, Libre's Law was passed in 2017, which makes it unlawful to leash a dog to a tree for more than 30 minutes when temperatures go below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Law is aptly named after Boston Terrier puppy, Libre, who was found in dire health after being left outside on a farm. Libre has since made a full recovery, and his story has sparked the conversation of treating animals with care, dignity, and respect.
Other states, such as New Jersey and Ohio, have also made it illegal to leave pets outdoors in freezing temperatures. Some counties have taken issue with cruelty to animals as well. In Marion County, Indiana, which includes the Indianapolis area, dog owners can be fined and may also lose their pets if they leave them outside in cold temperatures. Illinois passed the Humane Care for Animals Act, which makes it illegal to expose animals to a life‐threatening situation of extreme heat or cold conditions.
Although Libre's Law, and others, include 32 degrees as a baseline temperature, veterinarians generally agree that predominantly indoor pets should not be left outside in 45 degree and below temperatures. Additionally, these laws also prohibit pet owners from leashing their dogs alone outside for more than 30 minutes when temperatures are above 90 degrees. Depending on the state, county, and city laws, penalties can vary. Animal cruelty charges may be filed, fines may be imposed, and incarceration is possible.
Our pets depend on us to keep them healthy, safe, and comfortable. A little common sense can go a long way in treating other creatures with kindness. If it is cold outside, bring the critter indoors, or at least into the garage with plenty of blankets. Heated dog beds, houses, and kennels are readily available. There really is no excuse to leave a helpless animal out in the cold.
Sidewalks: Public Property or Your Problem?
If someone slips and falls on the sidewalk outside of your home or business, it is likely a lot of finger-pointing will ensue. So who's fault is it when a citizen is going about their business and suddenly takes a nosedive on a concrete pathway? The answer is: it depends. State laws vary on who is held responsible for keeping public sidewalks clear. Some states say the city is responsible, while others are less clear on whether the municipality, or even the homeowner, should be held liable.
Sometimes, neither the municipality nor the property owner are considered negligent. To be considered negligent, the sidewalk must have been in an unreasonably unsafe condition. Furthermore, the property owner must have known that the sidewalk was unreasonably safe, and did nothing to correct the problem. If the walkway was in good condition, and the pedestrian simply tripped, it is unlikely the property owner or municipality will be liable.
Colder temperatures are around the corner, and businesses and property owners have a duty to clear walkways of snow and ice within a reasonable amount of time. This includes driveways, parking lots, and their sidewalks. It is generally recommended to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to prevention of injury. If you live in a state where the law is a little less than clear on public property and sidewalks, it may be worth your time to do the work and keep it clear.
Some municipalities have enacted new codes that place the responsibility of maintaining sidewalks on the shoulders of adjacent property owners. In Orlando, even trespassers can attempt to hold property owners liable for injuries that occur on adjacent sidewalks. In several major cities in California, city governments are limiting their responsibility by shifting the sidewalk responsibility to property owners.
If a person were to file a lawsuit against the city, it comes with a different set of requirements than other filings. For instance, the statute of limitations is usually much shorter than with lawsuits against private citizens. In some situations, an individual may have missed the statute of limitations window, and they will attempt to hold the property owner responsible. If you are facing a lawsuit for an incident that occurred on or near your property, it is imperative to reach out to an attorney for advice.
Dealing with Your Landlord and a Broken Heater
Gone are the months of pooling sweat and overworked fans, and their place, we get to bring out the sweaters, shovels, and space heaters. The only thing worse than a broken air conditioner is a broken heater. If you are a tenant, hopefully you had a smooth-sailing summer with your A/C, because if your heater breaks, the last thing you'll want to do is go round two with your landlord.
When the temperature drops, there is no place like home. So what happens when home turns into an iceberg? The most straightforward step, is to tell your landlord. If you have been telling them to fix it for days and to no avail, bring a written notice with you. Some states, like Washington, require all notices between landlord and tenant to be in writing. Be sure to detail the facts of the situation, and ask them to kindly fix the icebox you call home. Hopefully, that does the trick and you will be back in business in no time.
Generally, landlords are required to respond in a reasonable manner. In situations that involve heat, water, and electricity, within 24 hours may be considered reasonable. If the circumstances are out of the landlord's control, the remedial action time may vary. If your landlord does not respond, you should file a complaint with the city. A building inspector can come in and check the property. If the landlord ignores any building or health codes, criminal penalties may follow.
Of course, no one wants a heating situation to escalate beyond getting the problem fixed. Usually, if no action is being taken toward correcting a serious problem, a tenant may be allowed to break the lease without penalty. Before packing your bags, consult a lawyer for guidance on what you can do to ensure your rights are being protected.
In most states, tenants are entitled to a safe, livable home. The Implied Warranty of Habitability includes keeping heating systems functioning safely. If your heater is leaking gas or broken, it must be fixed. For instance, Connecticut requires a thermostat to heat to at least 65 degrees. Your landlord is required to fix or replace the heater, provide fuel, or pay your heating bill if the issue is not addressed. If your request to fix the problem is not solved, call a lawyer.
Can You Get in Trouble for Burning Yard Waste?
Though torching a large pile of yard waste may sound like a fun afternoon activity, it could land you in a lot of hot water with the law. yard waste typically refers to leaves, weeds, grass clippings, dead plants and flowers, pruned branches and stems, tree trunks, wood shavings, brush, and even Christmas trees. To be clear, it does not include yard junk, such as tires, old swing sets, gnomes, and anything else that an annoying neighbor chooses to decorate their lawn.
If you are wanting to light a match to your organic material, please check the laws in your jurisdiction before unleashing your inner pyromaniac. Setting fire to any kind of material releases toxins into the air and can cause serious damage to structures or crops. You could face reckless burning charges, and penalties including jail time, that come with being charged with a felony.
In some areas, burning yard waste is allowed during certain times of the year. In others, a permit is required, while still many others, forbid the act. In California, a burn permit is required in many counties, and residents should check with their local district for more information. If granted a permit, there are several requirements for the burn that must be followed. Local and state governments have different regulations, so be sure to learn before you burn.
On June 17, 2017, a Utah resident allegedly burned weeds on his property in an effort, according to his defense attorney, to create a fire break. In an unfortunate turn of events, his yard waste fire set light to the surrounding area, torching 13 homes and burning more than 71,000 acres. The Brian Head fire cost more than $34 million to fight, and the defendant in the case is facing serious consequences, including steep fines and incarceration.
There are safer alternatives to burning yard waste. Consider calling your local sanitation department for pickup, or bring it to the dump. There are also leaf removal and yard waste disposal companies who will come to your property and pick it up for you. Always check the laws in your area before picking up a torch, because taking this one preventative step is much less expensive than hiring a criminal defense attorney.