Homeowners can be sued, jailed for 'attractive nuisances'
An owner who has someone trespass on their property can still be held liable for an injury, whether it's a youngster or an adult-age thug.
Q. I am a do-it-yourselfer and have been doing a major remodeling job on my house in the past few weeks. I have a one-car garage, and there is limited parking on the street, so I have been leaving my table saw and other tools in my backyard. My neighbor has three kids and is demanding that I move the tools inside because she is afraid the kids might come over and get hurt playing with them. She is even threatening to call the police, even though I have never asked her kids to visit and never will. What should I do?
A. You should store the tools inside when you're not using them, even though it might be a hassle to haul them into your house when you're done for the day or to find a space to park your car on the street so you can put them in your garage.
Even if your neighbor's kids get hurt while illegally trespassing on your property, there's a good chance a judge would side with your neighbor and hold you personally liable for their injuries based on the theory that you should have known that the equipment would be an irresistible lure for curious youngsters.
Several courts across the nation have ruled that power saws, swimming pools, old cars and even bird baths constitute an "attractive nuisance" that can tempt inquisitive kids. In a few cases, some adult burglars have even used this theory to sue a homeowner for injuries they suffered in the commission of their crime.
Though the table saw is in your own backyard, you are expected to be alert to potential dangers and take reasonable steps to protect anyone who might come onto your property — legally or not. If you do nothing and one of your neighbor's kids gets hurt, you could go to jail and almost certainly would be slapped with a huge lawsuit.
If you can't find a reasonable alternative to storing the tools in your yard, consider protecting yourself by putting a tall (if temporary) fence around them and padlocking the gate. Most cities already have laws that require pools or even hot tubs to be fenced.
Q. I recently visited the website of the company that provides my homeowners' insurance and discovered it provides a 5-percent discount to owners who have a burglary alarm system. I installed a high-tech system in 2009, but never got the discount. Am I owed a refund of the 5 percent in premiums I have overpaid in the past three years?
A. Probably not, but you should call your insurer's representative to ask. You might get a refund if the company knew about the alarm system and failed to apply the discount, but you'll be out of luck if you installed the system without letting the company know about it.
It's worth noting that some insurers clearly state on their policies which discounts they have applied, but other companies do not. So, there's a chance you have been getting the reduced rate for your alarm system even though you didn't realize it.
While you are on the phone with your insurance agent, don't forget to ask about other ways to cut your insurance costs. Many provide a 5-percent discount for those with smoke detectors in their home, 10 percent for those with indoor fire sprinklers and 15 percent or more for folks who will "bundle" their homeowners' policy with their auto or life insurance.
Some insurers also offer modest discounts to those who are retired or work from home, figuring it reduces the chance of a burglary or fire. Others will reduce premiums for those who have replaced the old cast-iron pipes with copper or an old roof with a fire-retardant new one, because it lowers the company's risk of a costly payout. Ditto for major upgrades to a home's electrical system.
Finally, ask the insurer's representative about the annual savings you might enjoy if you raise the policy's deductible. Increasing your deductible to $1,000 from $500 could slash more than 20 percent from your annual premiums, according to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org).
Q. If I form the type of living trust you often suggest, would I have to register the trust with the state government or court?
A. Only a handful of states, including Florida and Hawaii, have laws that technically require the registration of a newly created trust. But there is no penalty imposed on those who ignore the requirement, and the trust cannot be automatically overturned by a judge if it was never registered.
I recommend that most homeowners create an inexpensive living trust because their heirs can inherit their home and other assets quickly, rather than going through the costly and time-consuming probate court process.
Real estate trivia: Realty research giant CoreLogic estimates that 69 percent of all homeowners are still paying an interest rate of 5 percent or higher on their mortgages, even though average rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans have dropped to about 3.5 percent.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.
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