Self-Help

Safety Checklist for Those Experiencing Domestic Violence

The following lists can be helpful for those making a plan for leaving a domestic violence situation.

I have made my home as safe as possible by:

  • Changing locks and adding deadbolts
  • Hiding sharp objects and weapons
  • Making telephones accessible

I have planned and rehearsed an escape route for me and my children by:

  • Deciding where we will go in an emergency
  • Showing the children what to do if the Batterer breaks in, or comes to their school/day care
  • Teaching the children to call the police and safe relatives

I have packed an emergency bag and hidden it. My emergency bag includes:

  • Money: cash and change for phone calls
  • Clothing for me and my children
  • Diapers, medicine, toiletries
  • Copies of Court Documents such as my Order of Protection, divorce decree, and custody papers
  • Important Documents such as birth certificates, medical records, insurance, etc.
  • Extra keys
  • Telephone and address books with shelter and counselors numbers, bank records, insurance, etc.
  • My notebook or diary

I have explained my situation, and developed code words and phrases for __________ to call the police. I have shown them pictures of the abuser and his vehicle.

  • Children
  • Relatives
  • Neighbors Friends
  • Co-workers Children's School
  • Children's Day Care

I will keep accurate records & photos of events in a notebook or diary of dates and times of

  • Conversations
  • Episodes of violence
  • Attempts at contact, voicemail messages, texts.

I will call the police if the abuser:

  • Contacts me
  • Threatens me
  • Follows me Calls me
  • Has someone else follow me

I will get a safe place to hide:

  • My emergency bag
  • Copies of all important papers
  • Extra money
  • Evidence, such as photos and notebook
  • Extra sets of key

I will:

  • Practice my escape plan with my children
  • Be aware of my surroundings at all times
  • Stay calm in a panic situation
  • Locate police stations and safe places, know where to go if someone is following me
  • Keep plenty of gas in my car
  • Always put my keys and purse in the same place
  • Know who will help me in a crisis
  • Use my judgement and intuition. I will protect myself and my children, until we are out of danger then, I will get help
  • When I feel down and ready to return to an abusive situation, I will call _______________________ for support

For my children, I will:

  • Tell their school and/or Day Care who is allowed to pick them up.
  • Give a copy of my custody papers and my Order of Protection to someone in charge at school and/or Day Care
  • Teach them to remain calm in a crisis situation and how to call the police
  • Limit my children's knowledge of hiding places and details to prevent them from accidentally telling the abuser.

I know that

  • The safety of myself and my children comes before anything else.
  • The abuse is not my fault. I do NOT deserve to be abused
  • Through the support of community agencies and friends and family. I can help end the abuse
Where to find help:
  • Wo/Men's Resource and Rape Assistance Program (WRAP) - 731-668-0411 or 800-273-8712
  • Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline - 800-356-6767
  • West Tennessee Legal Services - WTLS provides civil legal help, criminal court accompaniment, legal information, and community education to victims of domestic violence in 17 West Tennessee counties.
Crime Victims' Bill of Rights

Victims of crimes have:

  • The right to confer with the prosecution.
  • The right to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse throughout the criminal justice system.
  • The right to be present at all proceedings where the defendant has the right to be present.
  • The right to be heard, when relevant, at all critical stages of the criminal justice process as defined by the General Assembly.
  • The right to be informed of all proceedings, and of the release, transfer, or escape of the accused or convicted person.
  • The right to a speedy trial or disposition and a prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction or sentence.
  • The right to restitution from the offender.
  • The right to be informed of each of the rights established for victims.
The Criminal Justice Process for Victims
A Crime Occurs
  • Suspect is arrested.
  • Police send all relevant reports to District Attorney's office to determine whether or not charges are going to be filed.
  • Victims have a right to be informed of and to reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency regarding the arrest of the defendant (if known by the prosecutor).
From Charges to Court
  • After reviewing the police report, the District Attorney may charge the suspect with a crime(s); however, not every report filed by the police leads to a criminal charge.
  • If a suspect is arrested, they are held in jail until the Initial Hearing/Arraignment (where they may be released).
Initial Hearing/Arraignment
  • The initial hearing/arraignment must occur within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest and is the suspect’s first appearance in court before the judge, where the suspect is informed of the charges against them by the District Attorney.
  • Victims have a right to be informed of all public proceedings at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present, and to be present at all such proceedings.
  • A suspect/Defendant may be appointed an attorney, or given time to find their own attorney.
  • The defendant may enter a plea.
  • If the defendant enters a “Not-Guilty” plea, then the case proceeds to trial.
  • If the defendant is in custody, the court will either release the defendant or hold them in custody until the trial date.
Pre-Trial
  • Preliminary Hearing = a hearing prior to trial where the judge reviews the evidence against the defendant to ensure that there is sufficient “probable cause” to go through with a trial.
  • Pre-Trial Hearings = hearings held before the trial in order to confirm that both the defense and prosecution are ready to proceed to trial. There may be many of these.
Trial

Types of trials:

  • Bench- trial before a judge without a jury.
  • Jury- trial before a judge with a jury of one’s peers (suspects may choose to waive their right to a trial by jury).
Aspects of a Jury Trial
  • Jury Selection: where the defense and prosecution pick the jury (in a Jury trial).
  • Opening Statements: statements by both the defense and prosecution before evidence is presented.
  • Presentation of Evidence/Testimony: the defense and prosecution have the option to present evidence and question witnesses at trial.
  • Closing Argument: statements by both the defense and prosecution after all evidence is presented.
  • Jury Deliberations: when the jury steps out of the court room to discuss whether the defendant is guilty or not.
  • Verdict: when the jury, or the judge in a bench trial, announces to the court whether or not the defendant is guilty.
  • Sentencing: where the judge imposes the sentence of the defendant (this can lead to a Sentencing Hearing) Victims have a right to be heard at any proceeding involving a sentencing and prepare a Victim Impact Statement.
Domestic Violence: The Warning List

This list can help you recognize if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship.

Verbal Abuse

Name calling, mocking, accusing, yelling, blaming, swearing, making humiliating remarks or gestures

Pressure Tactics

Rushing you to make decisions through guilt, sulking and intimidation, threatening to withhold money, manipulating the children

Abusing Authority

Always claiming to be right, Insisting statements are "the truth," telling you what to do, making "big" decisions, using logic

Disrespect

Interrupting, not listening or responding, twisting your words, putting you down in front of other people, saying bad things about your friends and family

Breaking Promises

Not following through on agreements, not taking a fair share of responsibility, refusing to help with childcare or housework

Emotional Withholding

Not expressing feelings, not giving support or attention, not respecting feelings, rights or opinions

Minimizing, Denying, or Blaming

Making light of their behavior, not taking your concerns about abuse seriously, saying the abuse didn't happen, shifting responsibility for their behavior by saying you caused it

Economic Control

Interfering with your work, not letting you work, refusing to give you money, taking your money, not allowing use of the car

Abusing Trust

Lying, withholding information, cheating on you, being overly jealous

Isolation

Preventing you from seeing friends or relatives, monitoring phone calls, telling you where you can and can't go

Harassment

Making uninvited visits or calls, following you, checking up on you, embarrassing you in public, refusing to leave when asked

Intimidation

Making angry or threatening gestures, using physical size to intimidate, out-shouting you, driving recklessly

Destruction

Destroying your possessions, punching walls, throwing/breaking things

Sexual Violence

Using force, threats, or coercion to obtain sex; degrading treatment based on sex

Physical Violence

Being violent to you, your children, your pets; slapping; punching; grabbing; shoving; hitting; kicking; choking; biting; burning; or stabbing

Weapons

Use of weapons, keeping weapons around which frighten you, threatening or attempting to kill you or those you love

Self-Destructive Behavior

Abusing drugs or alcohol, threatening suicide or self-harm, deliberately doing things that will have negative consequences (telling off his boss, etc.)

Assistance Animals: Your Rights and Responsibilities under FHA

The Federal Fair Housing Act provides protection for individuals with disabilities who need assistance animals to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas where the dwelling is located.

What are assistance animals?

Assistance animals are animals that "assist, support or provide services to persons with disabilities." For Fair Housing Act purposes, the term Assistance Animal includes:

  • Service Dogs and Service Horses
  • Emotional Support Animals
  • Therapy Animals
  • Companion Animals
  • Support Animals

Assistance Animals are not Pets!

An Assistance Animal is:

  • An extension of the person with the disability.
  • No different than any other prescriptive aid that a person with a disability may use (like a cane, walker, or an inhaler).

Tenant Rights

When a tenant is prescribed an assistance animal, the tenant has the right to request a reasonable accommodation to

  • Waive a "No Pet" Policy to accommodate the need for the assistance animal.
  • Request a waiver of a "Pet Deposit" requirement.
  • Request an exemption from housing policies that restrict the size, weight and breeds of animals allowed on the premises.
  • Have more than one assistance animal if more than one is prescribed.
  • Provide written verification from any reliable third party who is familiar with the condition and need of the person requesting the assistance animal (not just a doctor).

A tenant may make a request for a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal at any time during the tenancy-including when an eviction proceeding is pending.

Tenant Responsibilities

When the landlord grants an accommodation for an assistance animal, the tenant has a duty to:

  • Follow all other terms and conditions of the lease-especially those that apply to the animal.
  • Control the animal at all times.
  • Clean up behind the animal-inside the unit and wherever the animal makes a mess.
  • Follow all laws and ordinances that pertain to owners of animals (such as leash laws).
  • Pay for any damage caused by the assistance animal in the dwelling unit or other common areas.
  • When required, to show the connection between the request for each assistance animal and the disability with which the animal provides assistance.

If you experience discrimination because of your Assistance Animal

A landlord discriminates when he refuses (without proper cause) to permit a person with a disability to have an Assistance Animal, upon request. If you have been treated differently in a housing-related transaction because of your Assistance Animal you can:

  • File a Housing Discrimination complaint with HUD or the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement.
  • File a lawsuit in federal or state court.

Landlord Limitations

When a person with a disability asks permission to have an assistance animal in the unit, the landlord may not:

  • Refuse to grant the request, unless granting the request would impose an undue burden or hardship, or fundamentally alter the nature and type of services provided.
  • Refuse to grant a request for an Assistance Animal because of the breed of the animal.
  • Deny a request for an Assistance Animal without offering a suitable alternative.
  • Require a person with a disability to provide specific health information to prove the need for the animal.
  • Require the person with the disability to complete a specific form in order to have the request considered.
  • Demand certification for the Assistance Animal.
  • Without proper cause, limit the number of Assistance Animals that a tenant may have.

The Fair Housing Project

West Tennessee Legal Services is available to provide information concerning a person's rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination in housing, contact us at 800.372.8346 or 731.423.0616 for assistance. When necessary, staff can assist you in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or other appropriate administrative or judicial bodies.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in a housing situation, please contact one of the offices listed below. A housing counselor will discuss the situation with you and help you to decide what to do next. Your response to us will be kept confidential.

"The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication: Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government."

Help with Foreclosure

It is very important to keep your mortgage current, but if you cannot, consider exploring loan workout solutions with your lender.

Is your inability to pay temporary?

Here are a few options:

  • Reinstatement: Your lender may be willing to accept the total amount owed in a lump sum by a specific date.
  • Forbearance: Your lender may allow you to reduce or suspend payments for a short period of time and then agree to an additional option to bring your loan current. A forbearance option is often combined with a reinstatement plan when you know you will have enough money to bring the account current at a specific time.
  • Repayment plan: You may be able to get an agreement that allows you to continue making your regular monthly payments plus a portion of the past due payments each month until you are caught up.

Is your inability to pay long term?

  • Mortgage modification: If you can make payments on your loan, but do not have enough money to bring your account current or you can’t afford your current payment, your lender may be able to change the terms of your original loan to make the payments more affordable.
    • Your loan could be permanently changed in one or more of the following ways:
      • Add the missed payments to the existing loan balance. 
      • Change the interest rate; including making an adjustable rate into a fixed rate.  
      • Extend the number of years you have to repay. 
    • Partial Claim: If your mortgage is insured your lender might help you get a one-time interest-free loan from your mortgage guarantor to bring your account current. You may be allowed to wait several years before repaying the loan.
      • You qualify for an FHA partial claim if:
        • Your loan is between 4 and 12 months delinquent.
        • You are able to begin making full payments again after your lender files a partial claim and HUD will pay your lender the amount necessary to bring your mortgage current. You must sign a promissory note and a lien will be placed on your property until the promissory note is paid in full.

Is keeping your home not an option?

  • Sale: If you can no longer afford your home, your lender will usually give you a specific amount of time to find a purchaser and pay off the total amount owed.
    • Pre-foreclosure sale or short sale:
    • If you cannot sell the property for the full amount of the loan, your lender may accept less than the amount owed.
  • Assumption: A qualified buyer may be allowed to take over your mortgage even if your original loan documents state that it is non-assumable.
  • Deed-in-line of foreclosure: As a last resort, you “give back” your property and the debt is forgiven. This will not save your house, but it is less damaging to your credit rating. This option might sound like the easiest way out, but it has limitations:
    • You usually have to try to sell the home for its fair market value for at least 90 days before the lender will considerthis option. In addition, this option may not be available if you have other liens such as other creditor judgments, second mortgages, and IRS or state tax liens.

West Tennessee Legal Services Provides:

  • Housing counseling information and referral.
  • Home ownership and rental counseling.
  • Certified HUD housing counseling agency.
  • Advocates for fair housing.
  • Counsel for non-profit organizations to increase affordable housing stock.
  • Community education programs, research, and technical assistance.

It is illegal to discriminate against any person because of their race, religion, sex, national origin, children in the family, handicap, or disability in the following situations:

  • Sale or rental of most housing.
  • Advertising the sale or rental of housing.  
  • Financing of housing.
  • Provision of real estate brokerage services.
Your Rights to Fair Housing

HOUSING DISCRIMINATION

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the denial of housing to a person based on the person's membership in one or more of the classes protected under the Act. The protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and handicap.

It is therefore illegal to discriminate against a person in the provision of housing because of a person's membership in a protected class in the following situations:

  • the sale or rental of most housing;
  • the terms, conditions, privileges of sale or rental, or provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of most housing;
  • the advertising of a sale or rental of housing
  • the representation of the availability of housing for rental or sale.
  • the provision of reasonable modification to a dwelling for persons with a handicap at their expense when necessary for the full use and enjoyment of the dwelling;
  • the provision of reasonable accommodation to the rules, policies, practices, or services when necessary to provide persons with a handicap the equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling;
  • the financing or refinancing of housing; and,
  • the provision of real estate brokerage services.

In addition, it is illegal to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with a person in the exercise of enjoyment of rights provided by the Fair Housing Act or because a person aided others to enjoy rights provided or protected by the Act.

  • Examples of illegal discrimination under the Federal Fair Housing Act based upon protected class membership are:
  • False denial of availability.
  • Advertising that there are no available units when, in fact, there are because of class membership.
  • "Sorry we just rented the last unit."
  • Refusal to deal.
  • Refusing to rent, sell-or even negotiate- with a person because of class membership.
  • "We don't rent to Jews." or "We don't sell to families with children."
  • Discriminatory terms and conditions and provision of services or facilities.
  • Giving less favorable terms in sales or rental agreements because of class membership.
  • "The rent is $200 higher for persons with a handicap or persons with friends with a handicap."
  • Discriminatory Advertising
  • Indicating any preference, limitation or discrimination because of class membership.
  • "No African Americans need apply"

Financial Discrimination

Denying any type of home loan for discriminatory reasons by lenders, including banks, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, and others, or giving less favorable loan terms because of class membership.

"Minorities must be charged higher interest on loans than similar white homeowners."

Blockbusting

Persuading a homeowner to sell by stating or implying that minority homeowners moving into the area will cause the property values to decline.

"Why don't you let me sell you house? After all with your minority neighbors moving in, if you don't sell soon, your property value will go down."

Refusal to permit a reasonable modification to the unit at the expense of the person with a handicap, in order that the person may have full enjoyment of the unit.

"You may not install grab bars in the bathroom."

Denial of a reasonable accommodation to the rules and regulations of rental in order that the person with handicap may have equal opportunity to use and fully enjoy their unit.

"It's against the rules to have another person live with you, even though there is enough room and the person is necessary to help you with your health needs."

The Fair Housing Project

West Tennessee Legal Services is available to provide information concerning a person's rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination in housing, contact us at 800.372.8346 or 731.423.0616 for assistance. When necessary, staff can assist you in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or other appropriate administrative or judicial bodies.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in a housing situation, please fill out and return the reply card attached to this brochure. A housing counselor will discuss the situation with you and help you to decide what to do next. Your response to us will be kept confidential.

"The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication: Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government."

Sus Derechos de Igualdad Vivienda

Discriminacion de Vivienda

El Decreto Federal de Igualdad de Envoltura prohibe la negacion de vivienda a una persona cuando es basada en que pertenece a una o mas clases protegidas bajo el Decreto. Las clases protegidas son las siguientes: la raza, el color, la religion, el origen nacional, el sexo, el estado familiar y las limitaciones fisicas o incapacidades.

Por lo tanto en las siguientes es ilegal discriminar en contra de una persona en la provision de vivienda porque esa es miembro de una de las clases protegidas:

  • La venta o el alquilar de la mayoria de las viviendas;
  • los terminos, las condiciones, los privilegios de la venta o el alquilar, o la provision de servicios o las facilidades en conexion con la venta o el alquilar de la mayoria de las viviendas;
  • La publicidad de venta o alquilar de vivienda;
  • La representacion de la disponibilidad de una vivienda que se alquila o se vende;
  • La provision de una modificacion razonable a la vivienda de las personas con incapacidades cuando es pagada por si mismas cuando es necesaria para el us y placer completo de la vivienda;
  • El financiar o re-financiar de la vivienda; y,La provision de los servicios de un agente de bienes y raices.

Ademas, es ilegal obligar, intimidar, amenazar o iterferir con una persona que esta ejerciendo sus derechos de disfrutar sus derechos proporcionados o protegidos por el Decreto Federal de Igualdad de Envoltura o con una persona que esta ayudando a otros a disfrutar los derechos proporcionados por el Decreto.

Ejemplos de discriminacion ilegal bajo el Decreto Federal de Igualdad de Envoltura basada en calidad de miembro de una clase protegida son:

Negacion falsa sobre disponibilidad.

Debido a que una persona es miembro de cierta clase, informarle que no hay unidades disponibles cuando, en realidad, si hay.

"Lo sentimos, pero ya se alguilo la ultima unidad."

Negarse a hacer trato.

Negarse a rentar, vender o hasta negociar con una persona a causa de su clase.

"No alquilamos a judios.." o "No vendemos a familias con ninos."

Terminos y condiciones discriminatorios y provision de servicios o instalaciones.

Otorgar terminos menos favorables en contratos de ventas o alquiler a causa de su clase.

"La renta es $200 mas para personas con una incapacidad fisica o para personas con amigos que tienen incapaciades fisicas."

Publicidad Discrimatoria

Indicar cualquier preferencia, limitacion o discriminacion a causa de clase. Ningun hispano debe solicitar."

"Ningun hispano debe solicitar"

 

Discriminacion Financiera

Negarle cualquier tipo de prestamo para la compra de una casa por razones discriminatorias por los prestamistas incluyendo bancos, asociaciones de ahorros y prestamos, companias de seguros, y otros, u otorgar terminos de prestamos menos favorables a causa de clase.

"No se debe cobrar interes mas alto por prestamos a las minorias que a los duenos de casa que son blancos."

Obstruccion del vecindario

Tratar de convencer a un dueno de casa de venderla diciendole o implicando que las minorarias que estan mudandose al area causaran la devaluacion de la propiedad.

"Por que no me permite vender su casa? Despues de todo, con las minorias que estan mudandose a su alredador, si Ud. no vende pronto, su propiedad bajara de valor."

Negarse a permitir una modificacion razonable a la unidad cuando es pagada por la persona que tiene la incapacidad, para que esa persona pueda disfrutars completamente de la vivienda.

"No se puede instalar agarraderas en el bano."

Negacion a un cambio razonable a las reglas y regulaciones del alquiler para que la persona incapacitada pueda tener oportunidad igual de usar y disfrutar de su vivienda.

"Es contra las reglas que otra persona viva con Ud, aunque haya espacio suficiente y esa persona sea necesaria para ayudarle con las necesidades de su salud."

 

El Proyecto de Vivienda Justa

West Tennessee Legal Services es disponible para proporcionar informacion sobre los derechos de una persona bajo el Decreto Federal de Igualdad de Envoltura. Si cree Ud. que es victima de discriminacion de vivienda, pongase en contacto con nosotros al 800.372.8346 o al 731.423.0616 para asistencia. Cuando sea necesario, nuestro oficina puede asistirle en entregar una reclamacion al Departamento de la Envoltura y el Desarrollo Urbano (HUD en ingles) o a cualquier otro entidad administrativa o judicial apropiada.

Si Ud. cree que ha sufrido discriminacion en una situacion de vivienda, por favor, llene la tarjeta adjunta a este folleto y devuelvala. Un consejero de envoltura le hablara sobre la situacion para ayudarle a tomar la decision sobre lo que debe hacer. Su repuesta a nosotros se mantendra confidencial.

"El trabajo que proporciono la base para esta publicacion fue sostenido financiado bajo una beca con el departamento de envoltura y Desarrollo Urbano de los EEUU. La sustancia y los hallazgos del trabajo son dedicados al publico. El autor y el editor son unicamente responsables de la certeza de las declaraciones e interpretaciones contuvo en esta publicacion: Tales interpretaciones no reflejan necesariamente las vistas del Gobierno federal."

Disabilities and Fair Housing

West Tennessee Legal Services has received a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce fair housing laws, investigate allegations of discrimination and provide community education. This grant will enable us to enhance the efforts in Fair Housing related to persons with disabilities.

The project will serve the entire community, including Individuals and Families, Support Groups, and Social Service Organizations.

OUR PLAN

  • More freedom of housing choices for people with disabilities
  • Increased inclusion of people with disability into local communities
  • Better Community acceptance and attitudes toward people with disabilities and awareness of their needs and rights
  • Fewer barriers to inclusion because of increased enforcement of Fair Housing rights through testing, advocacy, and awareness
  • Community Education

OUR PURPOSE

West Tennessee Legal Services is available to provided information concerning a person's rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination in housing, or need assistance, contact the Housing Department at West Tennessee Legal Services at 731.423.0616 or toll free at 800.372.8346 ext 250.

HOUSING DISCRIMINATION IS AGAINST THE LAW!

What to do...

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in a housing situation, please fill out and return the reply card attached to this brochure. A housing counselor will discuss the situation with you and help you to decide what to do next.

When necessary, our staff can assist you in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or other appropriate administrative or judicial bodies.

Your response to us will be kept confidential.

Some examples of illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act based upon protected class membership are:

  • False denial of availability based on class membership.

"Sorry we just rented the last unit."

  • Refusal to deal because of class membership.

"We don't rent to families with children."

  • Discriminatory terms and conditions and provision of services or facilities because of class.

"The rent is $200 higher for the disabled."

  • Refusal to permit a reasonable modification to the unit at the expense of the person with a disability, in order that the person may have full enjoyment of the unit.

"You may not install a ramp to the porch or grab bars in the bathroom."

  • Denial of a reasonable accommodation to the rules and regulations of rental in order that the person with a disability may have equal opportunity to use and fully enjoy their unit.

"It's against the rules to have another person live with you, even though there is enough room and the person is necessary to help you with your health needs."

  • Discriminatory Advertising

"Handicapped persons need not apply."

The Fair Housing Project

West Tennessee Legal Services is available to provide information concerning a person's rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination in housing, contact us at 800.372.8346 or 731.423.0616 for assistance. When necessary, staff can assist you in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or other appropriate administrative or judicial bodies.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in a housing situation, please fill out and return the reply card attached to this brochure. A housing counselor will discuss the situation with you and help you to decide what to do next. Your response to us will be kept confidential.

"The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication: Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government."

Las Incapacidades y la Vivienda Justa

West Tennessee Legal Services recibio una beca del Concilio de desarrollo de Incapacidades de Tennessee para la aplicacion justa de vividenda, la aplicacion justa de vivienda, la investigacion, y la educacion de la comunidad. Esta beca permitira nuestra asociacion a aumentar los esfuerzos en la Vivienda Justa relacionada a personas con incapacidades.

Este Proyecto servira la comunidad entera, inclusive Individuos y Familias, los Grupos de Apoyo, y las Organizaciones del Servicios Sociales.

NUESTRO PLAN:

  • Mas libertad de las elecciones alberger para personas con incapacidades
  • La inclusion aumentada de personas con incapacidades en comunidades locales
  • Mejor aceptacion y actitudes de la comunidad hacia personas con incapacidades y conocimiento de sus necesidades y derechos
  • Menos barretas a la inclusion a causa de la aplicacion de derechos de Envoltura Justos por probar, el apoyo, y el conocimiento
  • La Educacion de la Comunidad

Nuestro Porposito

West Tennessee Legal Services esta disponible proporcionar informaccion con respect a los derechos de persona bajo el Acto Federal de Envoltura Justo. Si usted cree que usted es una victima de la discriminacion entre compania, o necesita ayuda, contacta el Departamento de Vivienda o West Tennessee Legal Services en 731-423-0616 ext. 250 o gratuito en 1-800-372-8346.

La Discrminacion de albergar es ilegal!

Que hacer...

Si Usted cree que usted ha sido discriminado en una situacion de vivienda, por favor llena y Vuelve la tarjeta de contestacion conectada a este folleto. Un consejero de la vivienda,discutira la situacion con usted y le ayuda a decidiir que hacer luego.

Cuando es necesario, nuestro oficina le puede ayudar en la clasificacion de una queja con el departamento de Envoltura y Dasarrollo Urbano (HUD) o de otros grupos aporpiados, administrativos o judiciales.

Su respuesta a nosotros sera mantenido confidencial.

Ejemplos de discriminacion ilegal bajo el Decreto Federal de Envoltura basada en calidad de miembros de una clase protegida son:

  • Negacion falsa sobre disponibilidad.

"Lo sentimos, pero ya se alquilo la ultima unidad."

  • Negarse a rentar, vender o hasta negociar con una persona a cuasua de su clase.

"No vendemos a familias con ninos,"

  • Terminos y condiciones discriminatorios y provision de servicios o instalaciones.

"La renta es $200 mas para personas con una incapacidad fisica."

  • Negarse a permitir una modificacion razonable a la undiad cuando es pagada por la persona que tiene la incapacidad, para que esa persona pueda disfrutarse completemente de la vivienda.

"No se puede instalar agaraderas en el bano o una rampa el el passillo.

  • Negacion a un acomodacion razonable a las reglas y regulaciones del alquiler para que la persona incapacitada pueda tener oportunidad igual de usar y disfrutar de su vivienda.

"Es contra las reglas que otra persona viva con Ud., aunque haya espacio suficiente y esa persona sea necesaria para ayudarle con las necesidades de su salud."

  • Publicidad discrimatoria.

"Ninguna persona con un incapacidad debe solicitar."

El Proyecto de Vivienda Justa

West Tennessee Legal Services es disponible para proporcionar informacion sobre los derechos de una persona bajo el Decreto Federal de Igualdad de Envoltura. Si cree Ud. que es victima de discriminacion de vivienda, pongase en contacto con nosotros al 800.372.8346 o al 731.423.0616 para asistencia. Cuando sea necesario, nuestro oficina puede asistirle en entregar una reclamacion al Departamento de la Envoltura y el Desarrollo Urbano (HUD en ingles) o a cualquier otro entidad administrativa o judicial apropiada.

Si Ud. cree que ha sufrido discriminacion en una situacion de vivienda, por favor, llene la tarjeta adjunta a este folleto y devuelvala. Un consejero de envoltura le hablara sobre la situacion para ayudarle a tomar la decision sobre lo que debe hacer. Su repuesta a nosotros se mantendra confidencial.

"El trabajo que proporciono la base para esta publicacion fue sostenido financiado bajo una beca con el departamento de envoltura y Desarrollo Urbano de los EEUU. La sustancia y los hallazgos del trabajo son dedicados al publico. El autor y el editor son unicamente responsables de la certeza de las declaraciones e interpretaciones contuvo en esta publicacion: Tales interpretaciones no reflejan necesariamente las vistas del Gobierno federal."

Conservatorships

Do you know an adult who can no longer make healthcare or money decisions?

Being their conservator is one way you can make decisions for them.

What if someone you know can’t make health care decisions or handle money? If you want to help, you have some choices. First, see if the person who needs help already has any of these legal papers:

  • Legal papers that name someone to make their healthcare decisions:
    • Appointment of Health Care Agent/ Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
    • Appointment of Health Care Surrogate
    • Conservatorship of the Person
  • Legal papers that name someone to make their money decisions:
    • Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Matters
    • Representative Payee
    • Conservatorship of the Estate

These legal papers tell you who can make decisions for the person who needs help. All of the papers listed above give someone the legal right to make decisions for someone else. This booklet is only about conservatorship in Tennessee. Conservatorship means you have a court order to make decisions for someone else. You are this person’s “conservator.” The person who needs help is your “ward.”

For anyone to get conservatorship, the person who needs help MUST:

  • Be disabled or have mental illness or injury
  • Need someone to look out for them full or part-time
  • Not be able to make their own decisions

There are two kinds of conservatorship.

  1. The Conservator of the Person makes decisions about someone’s personal and physical care. If you are the conservator of the person you must:
    • Do what is best for the person
    • Make sure they have the help they need
    • Make sure they have a safe place to live
    • Make sure they have health care
    • Follow the person’s Advance Care Plan or Living Will, if they have one. It says what kind of health care they want.
    • Do what you think the person who needs help would want
    • Make decisions based on the person’s own beliefs or religion
    • Every year you may have to report to court saying how the person is doing
  2. The Conservator of the Estate handles someone’s money, property and bills. If you are the conservator of the estate, you must:
    • Do what is best for this person
    • Take care of this person’s income and property. Does this person have money left after paying for their needs? Then you must make good decisions about how to invest it
    • The judge may order you to send reports to the court. The reports show what you are doing with the money and property.

The judge may make you conservator of the person and the estate. Or he may give you one job and choose someone else for the other job.

How to apply for conservatorship of the person, the estate, or both.

It is very hard to get a conservatorship without a lawyer. Lawyers know what papers the court needs and how to fill them out. In some counties, the court clerk’s office can give you the papers. In other counties, you must have lawyer file the papers with the court.

  1. You must have a sworn written paper (affidavit) from the person’s doctor. The paper must say that the person can no longer make their own decisions. What if the doctor won’t give you this paper? Then you can ask the judge to order it.
  2. You or your lawyer must write to the person who will be the ward. You must also send the letter to their close adult relatives. It tells them you are asking to be the conservator. You must do this before the court date. It gives them a chance to stop you. The judge will not OK the conservatorship until this has been done.
  3. File a Petition paper with the Court - The court must be in the county where the person lives. Each county has courts that do conservatorships. You can file in either the Circuit or Chancery Courts.
    • When you file, you must include a doctor’s sworn paper saying this person can’t make decisions. If the doctor didn’t give it to you, ask the judge to order it from the doctor.
    • You may have to pay a filing fee when you give the court clerk the petition paper. Can’t pay the fee? You can file a paper called an Affidavit of Indigency. If the judge approves it, the fee won’t be paid until the case is over. What if the person or their family doesn’t want you to be the conservator? Or what if the judge doesn’t make you conservator? Then most of the time, you pay the fee. What if the judge makes you the conservator? Then the fee comes from the income of the person you will be conservator for.
  4. The judge may name a lawyer called a guardian ad litem or GAL. The GAL’s job is to check the facts in your petition paper. The GAL will look at medical and financial records. The GAL will talk to the person who needs help, you, family and doctors. They will give the judge a written report. The report will say if the conservatorship should be approved. It will say who should be conservator. It will say if the conservatorship should be limited. Limited means the conservator can only do certain things. You may have to pay for the cost of the GAL. The judge doesn’t always name a GAL.
  5. Go to the Hearing - A date will be set for you to come to court. Some judges will want the person who needs help to come, too. Is he or she too sick or disabled to come? Tell the judge. Some judges will want a doctor’s letter saying why the person can’t come. The judge decides if the person who needs help must come.
    • At the hearing, the judge looks at reports from the GAL and doctor. The judge decides if this person needs a conservator of the person or estate or both. He says who will be the Conservator of the Person. He may make a different person Conservator of the Estate. The judge says what things the conservator can decide. The judge will say if you must make reports to the court and how often.

The person who needs help has rights.

Conservatorship is very serious because it takes away basic rights. The person who needs help has a right to fight the conservatorship. To do this, they need to prove that they can make their own decisions.

The person who needs help has a right to a lawyer. If they can’t afford one, the judge will give them one. The person who needs help has a right to have a jury trial and bring witnesses.

The person who needs help may ask the judge to have a different doctor examine them. This new doctor will say if they need a conservator.

What if the person who needs help doesn’t want you as the conservator? If the judge chooses someone else to be conservator, you may have to pay the court fees.

Does having a conservator take away all rights of the person who needs help? No. They still have the right to decide things not listed in the court order.

Can a Conservatorship End? Yes. The person who wants to end it can ask the judge to end it. Or they can have someone acting for them ask the judge. They do this by filing a petition paper with the court or by sending a letter to the judge saying why the conservatorship should end. The judge may set a hearing date or ask a GAL to check things out.

Can the Conservator be changed? Yes, if you file a paper with the court and the judge approves it. You or the person who wants to be conservator can file the paper. Or someone acting for the person who wants to be conservator can file the paper. You must say why a change is needed. You will have to pay a filing fee to the court.

Reasons a judge might agree to change the conservator:

  • The conservator is not taking care of the person’s health problems OR
  • The person is living in a unsafe place OR
  • The conservator is spending the person’s money on someone else OR
  • The conservator doesn’t check to see how this person is doing
Elder Abuse and Neglect

What is abuse?

Physical

Intentional use of physical force that results in illness, injury, pain, impairment, distress, or death

Sexual

forced sexual interaction, through touching or non-touching acts of any kind; may be caused by tricking, manipulating, or coercing the older adult into undesired contact

Emotional

Verbal or non-verbal behavior that results in anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress; characterized by yelling, belittling, insulting, ignoring, or inducint guilt

Neglect

Failure by a caregiver or another responsible person to protect an older adult from harm, or failure to meet needs for essential medical care, nutrition, hydration, hygiene, clothing, basic activities of daily living, or shelter, resulting in serious risk of compromised health and safety

Financial/Exploitative

The illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older adult's resources by a caregiver, trusted person, or stranger for the benefit of someone other than the older adult

Reporting abuse

Tenn. Code Ann. § 71-6-103

  • Anyone reasonably suspecting abuse of a senior must report
  • Your identity is confidential unless a judge orders it revealed
  • Failure to report is a misdemeanor

Who do I tell?

  • Local or state police
  • Your doctor or physician
    • Make regular visits to your doctor and tell them about any issues you are having
  • Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline
    • 800-356-6767
  • Adult Protective Services
    • 888-277-8366
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman (for older adults living in nursing homes)
    • Northwest Tennessee
      • Kim Boyd
      • 731-694-1835
      • West Tennessee Legal Services
      • 113 W. Paris St, Huntingdon, TN 38344
    • Southwest Tennessee
      • Norma Bell
      • 731-668-6411
      • Southwest TN Area on Aging and Disability
      • 102 E. College St, Jackson, TN 38301
  • West Tennessee Legal Services (offices in Jackson, Dyersburg, Huntingdon, and Selmer)
    • 731-423-0616

Taking action

File criminal charges

File for an order of protection

  • Filed by the victims themselves
  • Same effect as a restraining order
  • Can be used to keep someone away from your finances
  • Violation of an order of protection can result in fines and/or jail time

File a civil lawsuit under TAPA

  • The victim, an agent, or relative of the victim can file a civil lawsuit for damages
  • Money damages are available for abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation

Petition for conservatorship

  • A conservator makes decisions when someone cannot make their own decisions
  • Anyone who knows that another person needs help can file
  • Conservator can be a relative or the public guardian

Give an agent power of attorney

  • Anyone can appoint a power of attorney to handle finances, medical decisions, or both
  • You can choose to have this done immediately or at a later date
  • This can be revoked, but choose a trustworthy relative or friend

Build a strong support network

  • Family, friends, church, and social groups

What should you look for?

Physical signs

Bruises, burns, broken bones, bad hygiene, malnutrition

Emotional signs

Frequent arguments between the victim and their caregiver, changes in personality or behavior, withdrawal from normal activities, strained or tense relationship, sudden changes in alertness, unusual depression, isolation

Financial signs

Sudden changes in financial situation, caregiver not taking care of basic needs, transfers of property or large gifts, weight loss, poor self-care

Who is vulnerable?

Those who are experiencing or have experienced:

  • Previous abuse
  • Mental illness or impairment
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Dependence on caregivers
  • Lack of social support
  • Unavailability of services
  • A culture of silence around abuse

Who commits abuse?

  • Family members
  • Adult children
  • Partners or spouses
  • Caregivers
  • Those in relationships of trust
  • Scammers
Estate Recovery: Repaymenet of TennCare Costs

What is estate recovery?

Tennessee’s Medicaid program (TennCare) uses estate recovery to get back some of the money it has spent on older TennCare patients. When the Medicaid patient dies, TennCare tries to collect, or recover, money from the estate of the Medicaid patient. This is called estate recovery.

Federal law requires every state to recover some of the costs for Medicaid care given to anyone who is age 55 or older. Each state has different rules for estate recovery.

How does estate recovery work?

In Tennessee, the Bureau of TennCare may only recover money from property that is managed through a probate court. Since Medicaid patients do not have much money, there may not be any property left when the Medicaid patient dies. If there is no property or money left, then there is no “estate” that can pay TennCare. Medicaid does not get paid back when there is no estate left.

Sometimes a Medicaid patient owns a home, a small bank account or a business. If that property has to be managed at the owner’s death, a case is filed in the probate court*. Here are some reasons why property might need to be managed through a probate court:

  • A dead person cannot own property. So, after the owner’s death, the probate court decides who will be named as the property owner.
  • Property may need to be sold through probate court, if there are debts that must be paid. TennCare estate recovery is one kind of debt that might need to be paid.
  • A probate case must be filed if it is not clear who the true owner of the property is, or who has “title” to the property. A probate court will decide who has title to the property.

When a probate case is started, the executor (or the attorney for the estate) must send a notice to TennCare. Then TennCare will file a “claim” which tells how much money was spent for the deceased Medicaid patient. By filing a claim, TennCare is asking the court to make sure that money is paid back to TennCare. Other creditors will also file claims, if there are other debts to be paid. Taxes and TennCare costs must be paid before other creditors are paid.

Are there limits on when TennCare can seek the recovery?

Yes, TennCare cannot seek payment until after the Medicaid patient’s death. Also, TennCare must delay recovery if the Medicaid patient has

  • a surviving spouse, or
  • a surviving minor child or
  • a surviving adult child who is disabled.

In those situations, the state must wait until the death of these family members before seeking recovery. 

Most creditors must file their claims within one year of the death of the debtor. But TennCare does not have to follow that deadline.

Are there limits on how much TennCare can recover?

TennCare can get back only the amount it spent on this Medicaid patient. If the estate has more money than TennCare spent, then the rest of the money goes to the “heirs” – the people who would inherit the property in the estate. If the Medicaid patient had long term care insurance, or other insurance, that paid part of the medical bills, make sure that TennCare does not bill for services that other insurance paid.

What happens if TennCare files a claim that is wrong?

Once TennCare files its “claim,” the executor of the estate is allowed to file an “exception” to the claim. An “exception” is an argument that the claim is wrong or asks for too much money. The judge decides whether the claim must be paid; and, if so, how much is paid.

Are there protections for the heirs of a Medicaid patient?

In claims involving TennCare, there are some rules that are followed that don’t apply to other creditors. The judge can decide that making a payment to TennCare will create a “hardship” on the people who would otherwise inherit the property in the estate – the “heirs.” If the judge decides that paying TennCare will cause a hardship, he will not allow the TennCare claim to be paid.

Tennessee law says that a hardship exists when “estate recovery” would cause:

  • The heirs to lose their main income, or
  • The heirs to go on Food Stamps or Families First to get by, or
  • A loss of property or money that would seriously hurt them in some other way.

Sometimes, TennCare will “waive” or forgive the debt on its own, if TennCare thinks the debt would cause a hardship.

There are other protections for family members of the Medicaid patient.

The state may not recover against a patient’s home if

  • The Medicaid patient had TennCare while living in a nursing home, and
  • The patient’s child lived in the patient’s home for at least two years before the Medicaid patient entered the nursing home, and
  • The child proved that he or she provided care for the Medicaid patient, and
  • The child provided care that allowed the patient to delay going into the nursing home, and
  • The child still lives in the patient’s home.

The state may not recover against a home if

  • The Medicaid patient lived in a nursing home, and
  • The Medicaid patient had a sister or brother who lived in the home for at least a year before the patient entered the nursing home, and
  • The sister or brother still live in the home, and
  • The sister or brother owns part of the home.
*A special note about probate court

The property owned by a deceased person does not always have to pass through probate.  For example, the money in a bank account would not have to be managed through the probate court, if

  • the bank account has a joint owner, or
  • the bank account has a “payable on death” (p.o.d.) provision and
    • a p.o.d. beneficiary is listed. (The beneficiary is the person to whom that “p.o.d.” payment is made).

Sometimes, a house or other real estate will pass to other owners automatically upon the death of one owner. But, that does not always happen. This happens only if there is special language in the real estate deed.

If real estate does not pass automatically to the other owners, then it may have to be managed through the process of probate.  These issues usually come up, after the owner’s death, when someone is trying

  • to sell the property,
  • to re-new homeowners’ insurance,
  • to borrow against the property, or
  • to re-finance a mortgage that is attached to the property.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman

What is an Ombudsman?

A Long-Term Care Ombudsman serves as an advocate for residents of long-term care facilities. To make sure your rights are protected Ombudsmen:  

  • Investigate complaints
  • Solve problems
  • Provide information
  • Protect resident rights  

Who can use the Ombudsmen Program?

  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Relatives and friends of residents
  • Facility administrators and employees
  • Any person or group concerned about resident treatment
  • The community-at-large

What does the Ombudsman do?

  • Receives, investigates, and works to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents in long-term care facilities.
  • Maintains a regular presence in all long-term care facilities.
  • Provides educational programs to the community and conducts in-service training for facility staff.
  • Assists in developing family and resident councils in long-term care facilities.
  • Works with the long-term care facilities to protect residents’ rights and ensure that residents receive the best care and services.

 When can you use the Ombudsman Program?

  • To report a problem, complaint, or concern.
  • To seek information about long-term care facilities.
  • For questions about facility services or standards, residents’ rights, or any other matters related to a long-term care facility.

 

Support, information, and advocacy are only a phone call away!

Don’t hesitate to contact your District Ombudsman today!

877-236-0013

Power of Attorneys, Advance Care Plans, and Conservatorship

Many people are confused when they hear the words “power of attorney,”“advance care plans,” or “conservatorship.” These words have different legal meanings. To know whether you need a power of attorney, advance care plan, or a conservatorship depends on your mental state.

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows someone to make decisions and handle your affairs for you, like paying your bills or managing your bank account. You can also have a medical power of attorney, which is a legal document naming someone to make medical decisions for you if you are not able. The person you appoint to make decisions for you becomes your agent. Your power of attorney can go into effect now, which allows your agent to make decisions for you immediately. Or, your power of attorney can go into effect at a later time, for example, when a doctor says you cannot make decisions for yourself. You must be mentally competent to sign a power of attorney, which means that you must know and understand what you are doing.

An advance care plan is a living will that contains more detail. This legal document allows you to state your preferences for medical care and intervention when you are suffering from an end-stage illness, in a permanently confused state, or completely dependent on others to provide your basic daily activities. For example, your advance care plan could state that you do not want CPR or life support if you are in a permanent coma or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Advance care plans also allow you to state your preferences regarding organ donation and allow you to name a medical agent, or someone to make medical decisions for you when you are not able. Just like a power of attorney, you must be mentally competent to sign an advance care plan.

If you are not mentally competent, usually a conservatorship is necessary for someone to be named to handle your affairs and make decisions for you. A conservatorship is a legal proceeding filed in court. A family member or friend files a petition for conservatorship asking the judge to name someone as your agent. Conservatorships can take several months to be approved by the court and usually require an attorney, which can be expensive. Also, since you are no longer mentally competent, the court names your agent, which may or may not have been the person you would have chosen had you been able. To make sure your wishes are honored, it is best to plan ahead and prepare a power of attorney and advance care plan while you are still stable.

How to Keep Your Paycheck from Being Garnished

Can this information help you?

This information may help you if you were sued in General Sessions Court. Other courts may have different rules. You can find out from the Court Clerk what you should do. This information tells you how to keep the person who sued you from taking your paycheck. You do not need a lawyer to do this.

Garnish means the money you owe comes out of your paycheck before you get it. The payment is sent to whomever you owe. Usually, your pay can be garnished only after you have been sued and you lost.

There are 3 ways to keep your paycheck from being garnished:

  1. Pay the full amount you owe OR
  2. Make a written agreement with the person who sued you. The agreement should say you will pay a certain amount each week or month. File this agreement with the Court Clerk. OR
  3. File a Slow Pay Motion with the Court.
  1. Paying the full amount you owe

You can stop garnishment before it starts. To do this, pay what you owe during the 10 days after your court date. Pay what the Judge said you owe to the Clerk of the General Sessions Court. You will owe the debt plus court costs. The Clerk will give you a receipt.

What if you don’t pay what you owe within 10 days after the court date? Your paycheck may be garnished.

You can STOP the garnishment any time by paying the Clerk’s Office what you owe. The Clerk will give you a receipt. Take the receipt to your employer right away. They should stop taking money from your pay as soon as they get the receipt.

  1. Making an agreement with the person you owe money to

If you agree to make regular payments, the person you owe may agree not to garnish your pay. Often, they or their lawyer will offer to do this in court. If you both agree on weekly or monthly payments, they will not garnish your paycheck.

Do not agree to pay more than you can afford. The garnishment will let you keep at least $217.50 per week. The $217.50 is counted after taking out Social Security and income tax. You usually should not agree to payments that would leave you with less than $217.50 per week. If you earn less than $217.50 per week, then your wages cannot be garnished. 

If your paycheck is already being garnished, you can often stop it with an agreement. Talk to the person you owe the money (or their lawyer). See if you can agree on weekly or monthly payments. If so, they should tell the Clerk in writing to stop the garnishment.

  1. Filing a Slow Pay Motion

A Slow Pay Motion is a paper that asks the Judge to let you make small payments. The payments leave you enough money to pay your other necessary bills. You can file a Slow Pay Motion any time after the Judge decides you owe the money. You do not need a lawyer to file a Slow Pay Motion.

You can stop the garnishment before it starts. To do this, file the Slow Pay Motion before your pay is garnished. If the Judge approves your Motion, your paycheck will not be garnished unless you do not pay. If garnishment has already started, it will stop when the Judge has heard your Motion.

To file a Slow Pay Motion, go to the Court Clerk’s Office. The Clerk will give you a form. It asks where you work, how much you make, and how often you are paid. It also asks the name and address of the person who sued you, the number of your case, how much the Judge said you owe, and how much you have already paid. If you do not have all these facts, the Clerk will help you get them. Then, the Clerk will ask you to swear that what you say on the paper is true. You may have to pay a small filing fee to file your Slow Pay Motion.

The Clerk will tell you when to come back to Court. The Clerk will also send the court date to the person you owe money to.

You go to Court to ask the Judge to let you make payments you can afford. Before the court date, write down your monthly bills to show the Judge. List your rent, lights and heat, food, and other necessary costs. Be ready to tell the Judge about your income and any other people you support.

If an emergency keeps you from going to court, call the Clerk’s Office before the day of the hearing. Ask if the Judge can set a new court date.

In court, try to sit near the front so you will hear your name called. When your name is called, answer quickly and make sure the Judge hears you. The Judge will want to know:

  • Why you cannot pay the whole amount you owe, and
  • How much you think you can pay each week or month.

Do not offer to pay more than you are sure you can pay. The person you owe the money to may ask the Judge to make you pay more. The Judge may let you pay the amount you offered or may make you pay more.

Pay on time and keep proof. It is very important to pay what the Judge told you to pay. The Judge will tell you who you must pay. It may be the Court Clerk, or it may be the person you owe. 

Pay by check or money order. Keep your cancelled checks or money order receipts. If you must pay in cash, be sure to get receipts and save them. Keep a record of how much you still owe after each payment. Then, you will know when the debt is paid. 

If you do not pay what the Judge ordered, your paycheck can be garnished. It will be very hard to stop this garnishment.

Social Security Overpayments

Does Social Security say they paid you too much money? They will take money out of each of your checks to pay it back. You may be able to stop it!

If you think Social Security is wrong and you DON'T owe them any money.

Then you can appeal. An appeal is a way to fix mistakes, but you must appeal within 65 days. The 65 days start with the date on the letter saying you were over-paid. The letter tells you how to appeal. To appeal, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or call your local Social Security office. If you ask, they will help you appeal.

Has it been more than 65 days? Do you have a good reason for missing the deadline? Then you may still be able to appeal. To appeal after 65 days, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or call our local Social Security office. You must have a good reason for waiting more than 65 days.

If you didn't appeal OR you lost your appeal, you can ask for a waiver.

A waiver means you don’t have to pay Social Security back. To get a waiver, you must prove 2 things:

  1. That it is not your fault you were paid too much AND
  2. That it would be a hardship for you to re-pay. Hardship means you have little or no money left after paying all your monthly costs. Are you on SSI? Then Social Security should always say it is a hardship for you to repay.

To ask for a waiver, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or call your local Social Security office.

Is this the first time you have asked for a waiver? Then Social Security should stop holding money out of your checks. They should stop as soon as you ask for the waiver. It will stop until Social Security decides about the waiver.

Were you working and not reporting it to Social Security? Then it will be hard to get a waiver. You agreed to report work income when you applied for Social Security. Many judges won’t approve a waiver if you didn’t report work income. That is because you didn’t follow the rule about reporting work income.

If you didn’t appeal, you lost your appeal, or you can’t get a waiver, you can ask for a re-payment plan.

A repayment plan lets you pay them back with lower monthly payments. They will take the payments out of your check. To ask for a re-payment plan, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or call your local Social Security office. Tell them it is a hardship on you to repay. Ask for lower monthly payments.

Are you on SSI? Then your payments can be as little as $10 a month. You may have to meet with someone from Social Security. Here is what you need to take with you:

  • A list of where all of your money goes each month
  • Proof of any payments you have to make each month
  • How much money is left after you pay rent, bills, and buy food
  • Is $10 to $20 the most you can pay each month? Then show that in your list.

Limiting Overpayment Recovery

Recovery of SSI overpayments is limited to no more than 10% of a current SSI beneficiary’s total SSI income (see 20 C.F.R. § 416.571). This rule also applies to concurrent Title II/SSI beneficiaries (see POMS GN 02210.045). However, there is no similar 10% limitation for Title II-only beneficiaries.

The Title II overpayment regulations provide a very useful provision for limiting the amount of the monthly overpayment recovery. Under 20 C.F.R. § 404.502(c), as little as $10 per month can be withheld if:

  1. It is determined that withholding the full amount each month would defeat the purpose of Title II, meaning it would deprive the person of income required for ordinary and necessary living expenses (see § 404.508); and
  2. The overpayment was not caused by the individual’s “intentional false statement or representation, or willful concealment of, or deliberate failure to furnish, material information."

This provision applies even if the individual was “at fault,” so long as there was no intentional act to cause the overpayment. The procedure for the $10 limit on recovery can be found in POMS GN 02210.030.B.6. Generally, SSA will try to recover the overpayment in 12 months or 36 months.

However, the individual can request the lower recovery rate as described in the POMS if a negotiated/requested rate would not permit recovery within 36 months, obtain an SSA-632-BK (the waiver of overpayment form) and evaluated income, expenses and assets. Withhold:

  • the amount by which income exceeds expenses but no less than $10; or
  • the rate permitted by income/assets if there are excess assets (GN 02250.115A.4), but no less than $10; or
  • the full monthly payment to the extent of any incorrect funds in the person’s possession (GN 02250.105).

The individual can request a lower rate at any time, even after recovery has begun. If the request is made after full adjustment is started, the lower rate will be effective in the month the request is made (see POMS GN 02210.030.C).

If the request is denied, the individual will receive a written notice explaining why the request was denied and what the recovery rate will be. SSA does not consider this decision as appealable because it is not an “initial determination.”

Note that if the individual has a 100% subsidy for Medicare Part D (the Prescription Drug Program), SSA will grant, without financial development, “any request that is at least $10.”

Unemployment Pay

Lost Your Job? Or hours been cut?

Apply for unemployment right away. There are two ways to apply:

  1. Online

Go to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website and follow the instructions. Print a copy of the papers you fill out. Keep them in a safe place. This is the best way to apply. Can't get on the internet at home? You can use the computers at the public library or Career Center. OR

  1. On the phone

Call 877-813-0950

If you are approved, how much do you get? Your amount depends on

  • How much you worked in certain months AND
  • What you were paid before you lost your job or had your hours cut

After you are approved, how do you get your payments?

You can choose one of 2 ways:

  1. Get direct deposit into your bank account OR
  2. Sign up for the TAP (Tennessee Automated Payment) card

The TAP card is a Visa debit card from Chase Bank. If you choose it, Chase sends you a TAP card in the mail. Starting the day you apply for the card, it takes 7 to 10 days to get it. It comes with a letter that tells you how to make the card work.

You can use the TAP card anywhere that takes Visa cards. BUT you CAN’T use the TAP card to put gas in your car. Use your TAP card as a credit card NOT as a debit card. You have to pay extra for using a debit card.

Don’t use your TAP card unless it has enough money to cover what you buy. If there isn’t enough money on your TAP card, you may have to pay extra fees. Check your balance for free through Chase Bank’s website. You can also call the bank at 866-429- 9835. But you can only call 4 times in a month.

You should get unemployment if:

  • You have worked at the job steadily for at least 4 to 6 months AND
  • You were laid off because of no work or the company closed down OR
  • You couldn't get your job back after being off for health problems or pregnancy. You have to report back to work as soon as your doctor says you're ready. OR
  • You quit your job to go with your spouse who was transferred by the military. OR
  • You quit for a good reason connected with the job. Examples:
    • The workplace is not safe.
    • They discriminate against you at work. OR
  • You were fired for something that was not your fault. OR
  • Your hours have been cut. You can get unemployment even if you still work part-time. OR
  • You have lost your regular job. BUT you have some work that pays less than your weekly unemployment check.

Also, you must also be ready (available) and able to work. This means you are healthy enough to work. AND there are no problems to keep you from working. Problems can be things like no childcare or no transportation.

Important! Did you become sick or disabled after getting unemployment? There are special rules for this.

Were you fired because you could not do the job? Were you fired because you made a bad mistake at work? You may still get unemployment.

When will payments start?

After you are okayed, they hold back the first week’s payment. It takes 2 weeks to get the second payment. After that, you will get paid each week if you follow the rules. After 4 weeks, you will get paid for the first week and that week. BUT this only happens if you meet all the rules for all 4 weeks.

How long can you get unemployment?

The state decides how much unemployment you can get in a year. The year starts the day you file for unemployment. Once you use all your payments for that year, your payments will stop. If many people in Tennessee are unemployed, you may get more payments.

You have to fill out papers every week to prove you are looking for work. You must give details of contacts with at least 3 employers a week OR how you are using the services at a career center.

Keep a copy of the papers! You can fill out the papers online at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website OR you can call the TIPS line at 800-689-9799. You must try to find a job unless:

  • You will get your old job back soon OR
  • You get your jobs through a union OR
  • You are in a training program approved by the unemployment office

You can’t get unemployment IF any of these 7 things are true:

  1. You quit your job without a good reason connected with the job. Good reasons are things like discrimination or an unsafe workplace. Childcare, transportation, and other personal problems are NOT good reasons connected with work. OR
  2. You can't work because of sickness or disability NOT caused by the job. OR
  3. You were fired for breaking the company's alcohol and drug rules. AND you failed a drug or alcohol test. OR
  4. You were fired for “misconduct” related to your job. Misconduct means doing something wrong on purpose. Just because your boss says it’s misconduct doesn’t always mean it is. Examples of misconduct could be:
  • You lied on your job application.
  • You didn't follow reasonable orders.
  • You did something to hurt the company.
  • You took time off but didn't come back on time.
  • You were late or did not come to work many times without being sick. It is not misconduct if you don’t come to work because you or your family members are sick.
  • You would not work a shift they asked you to work.   
  • You stole company property or money.
  • You did not come to work and didn’t tell your boss you wouldn’t be there.
  • You didn't do your job the way you were supposed to.
  • You took a bribe or told company secrets.
  • You broke or tore up company property.
  • You hurt another worker.
  • You broke your company's attendance rules on purpose.
  • You didn't follow a reasonable company rule that you knew about.
  • You broke state rules that are needed for the company to legally operate.       
  • You didn't get a certificate or license you agreed to get as part of the job.
  • You committed a crime while you were at work.
  • You committed a crime that involves dishonesty connected with your job.
  1. OR you are unemployed because you are out on strike. Strikes have special rules, so check with the unemployment office.
  2. You quit for personal reasons. These are things like losing childcare or not having a way to get to work. OR
  3. You were offered a “suitable” job and turned it down. A job is suitable if:
  • The pay is enough. Which means it must always be at least minimum wage, but it also depends on how long you have been out of work.
    • Have you been out of work for 13 weeks or less? Then the pay has to be at least as much as your old job paid.
    • Have you been out of work for 14 to 25 weeks? Then the pay has be at least 75% of what your old job paid.
    • Have you been out of work for 26 to 38 weeks? Then the pay has to be at least 70% of what your old job paid
    • Have you been out of work for more than 38 weeks? Then the pay has to be at least 65% of what your old job paid AND
      • The hours are almost the same as your old job AND
      • You don't have to drive a long way to get there AND
      • You don't have to join a union or quit one AND
      • You are not replacing someone who is out on strike.

If you are turned down for unemployment, you can appeal 

When you appeal, a different person decides if you can get unemployment. You must appeal within 15 days. The 15 days start with the date on the letter that turned you down. It doesn’t matter when you got the letter. If you decide to appeal, get a lawyer right away. You may want to ask Legal Aid if they can take your case. 

If you win the appeal, you get your unemployment payments. You get paid starting from the day you applied for unemployment.

If you do get unemployment, your employer may appeal.

If your employer thinks you shouldn't get unemployment, they may appeal.

If they do, get a lawyer right away. You may want to ask Legal Aid if they can take your case. If your employer wins the appeal, you will lose your unemployment. AND you may have to pay back any unemployment payments you got. When you must pay it back, they call it an over-payment. 

There are some things you can do about over-payment: 

  • Do you think you do meet the rules for getting unemployment? Then appeal the over-payment within 15 days. The 15 days start with the date on the letter telling you about the over-payment. Appeal online at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website OR call 1-877-813-0950 for free. Print a copy of any papers you fill out. Keep them in a safe place.
  • And you can ask for a waiver within 90 days. The 90 days start with the date on the letter telling you about the over-payment. If you get a waiver, they won’t try to collect the money. You might be able to get this if the over-payment was not your fault AND you can’t pay the money back. Ask for the waiver online at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website OR call 877-813-0950. Print a copy of any papers you fill out. Keep them in a safe place. 
  • Did they say no to the waiver? Then file an appeal about the waiver. Appeal on the internet at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website OR call 877-813-0950. Print a copy of any papers you fill out. Keep them in a safe place. 
  • Don’t have the money to pay the over- payment back? If you get unemployment later, they will take it out of your unemployment payments. They can also take the money from your income tax refund. Or you can make a payment plan with them.

It’s Easy to Start an Appeal

Just fill out an appeal paper. Call 877-813-0950 OR go to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website and fill out the papers. Print a copy of any papers you fill out. Keep them in a safe place.

Having a lawyer at the first unemployment hearing can be a big help. You can appeal without a lawyer. But if you lose at the first hearing, it may be too late for a lawyer to help. In most cases, you can’t use any new proof after the first hearing.

Need a lawyer? Call West Tennessee Legal Services at 731-423-0616. We help those with low income for free. We take as many cases as we can. Even if we can’t take your case, we may still be able to give you one-time legal advice or tell you where else you can get help.

APPEAL STEP 1: HEARING

When you appeal, the Hearing Officer or Appeals Tribunal holds a hearing on your case. You may get to decide if the hearing will be by phone or in person. It may be best to do the hearing in person. This is true even if you have to go a long way to get there.

You have the right to bring a lawyer or other person with you to this hearing. The hearing is not like going to court. You and your boss both tell your side to the Hearing Officer.

Important! Let the Hearing Officer know if you move or change phone numbers. If you don't, you won't know what happens with your case.

If you have a lawyer, they will help you get ready for the hearing. These are the steps to get ready for a hearing

Find out what your boss said about why you lost your job. To win at the hearing, you must prove that you should get unemployment. To find out what the boss said, call 877-813-0950. Ask to see your file at the unemployment office. You have a right to see it. Decide how to prove that you should get unemployment. You will only have a few minutes to show why you lost your job. Example: You may need to prove that you did not quit on your own. Or that the reason you were fired was not misconduct. Important! Plan ahead so that you know what you want to say to prove your case. Example: It is not misconduct if you didn’t do anything wrong on purpose. It is not misconduct if you didn’t make mistakes over and over.

Do you think your boss mistreats people? Can you prove this was why you lost your job? If not, don't talk about it. Also, don't talk about how hard it has been to lose your job. It will not help.

You have a right to bring your own witnesses to the hearing.

Most of the time, judge won't let you say what someone else told you. This is called "hearsay." The judge usually needs to hear from the person who saw or heard what happened.

 Before you take a witness with you, ask them what they will say. Don't take someone you just think will back you up. Be sure that what they will say will help you.

You have the right to have the Appeals Tribunal tell your witnesses to come. This is called a subpoena (“suh-PEA-nuh”). It is a legal paper that says they must come to the hearing. Need a subpoena sent to a witness? Ask the Hearing Officer in writing at least 3 days before the hearing. Keep a copy of your letter.

At the hearing, it is important for you to be nice. It helps people believe what you say. Do you disagree with what your boss or witnesses say? Don't butt in just because you disagree. You will have the chance to tell your side when you testify. No cussing or swearing!

However, there is one situation where you should butt in. If your boss tries to tell things they did not see or hear in person, you can interrupt by saying, “I object.” Your boss should not tell something someone else told them. Your boss had to see or hear it in person. You may need to say this to the Hearing Officer.

After the hearing, you will get a letter. Read it carefully. It will say if you won your appeal. The letter will come from the “Appeals Tribunal” part of the unemployment office.

APPEAL STEP 2: REVIEW BY THE COMMISSIONER’S DESIGNEE

If you lose at the hearing, you can appeal again. If you win this time, your boss can also appeal. The appeal must be made within 15 days. The 15 days start with the date on the paper that says who lost at the hearing.

You must appeal in writing by writing a letter to the Commissioner's Designee. The letter must say that you want to appeal the Appeals Tribunal decision. In the letter, say why you believe the Appeals Tribunal got it wrong. Keep a copy of the letter you sent to the Commissioner's Designee.

After you file the appeal, you will get a paper called an Acknowledgement of Appeal. Fill out the paper and mail it back. If you have new evidence, you will have to say what it is.

This time, the person who looks at your appeal is called the Commissioner’s Designee. If you have new witnesses or new evidence, they may give you another hearing. Or they may decide your case after reading the papers from the first hearing.

Let the Commissioner’s Designee know if you move or change phone numbers. If you don't, you won't know what happens with your case.

APPEAL STEP 3: COURT

If you lose at step 2, you may file a lawsuit in Chancery Court. You will need a lawyer to go to court. You must file within 40 days. The 40 days start with the date on the paper that says you lost at Step 2.

Did you already have a lawyer helping with this case? Then they may go with you to Chancery Court. What if you didn't have a lawyer before? Most lawyers won't take the case this late. That is because they can't change any mistakes you made earlier in the appeal.

Watch for the deadlines! Don't let your 15- or 40-day deadlines go by! Once they have passed, you won’t be able to make your appeal. This is true no matter how good your case is. During your appeal, you must fill out papers every week to show you don’t have a job. You can fill out the papers online at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website OR you can call the TIPS line at 800-689-9799.

When your unemployment is approved or you win your appeal, you will start getting unemployment payments.

If your unemployment is cut off, you can appeal

Your unemployment can be cut off IF:

  1. You don't follow the rules the unemployment office gives you about looking for a job OR
  2. You don't go to a job interview the unemployment office sets up for you OR
  3. You turn down a job offer without a good reason OR
  4. You are offered a job but refuse to take a drug test OR your drug test came back positive OR
  5. You are in jail 4 or more days in a week OR
  6. You win but your boss files an appeal and wins OR
  7. You move and don’t give the unemployment office your new address OR
  8. You don’t turn in your weekly papers to prove you are looking for work.

Before they cut off your payments, they must send you a letter. The letter tells you to come to the unemployment office. If you don't go, they will cut off your payments. If you do go, they will tell you what the problem is. Then you can tell your side of the story. What if they do cut off your unemployment? Then you can go through the same 3 appeal steps listed above.

 

Avoiding Disaster Repair Rip-Off

Avoiding Disaster Repair Rip-Off: Choosing A Contractor

Many times following a natural disaster one of the major problems faced by the victims is predatory home repair rip-offs. These unscrupulous individuals will appear on the scene of the disaster very quickly looking for victims. There will be individuals who legitimately want to help and are simply offering to provide you with a valuable service. These builders or contractors, who are properly licensed and credentialed, are your best bets during this difficult time. West Tennessee Legal Services and the Jackson Area Homebuilders Association want you to have some tips to help you choose a builder or contractor and avoid the rip-off artists who might contact you.

Tips

  • Make sure you know the person with whom you are dealing and the company he or she represents. Deal only with licensed and insured (or bonded) contractors. Require proof of the identity of their company and of the license and insurance. Don’t make the mistake of only looking at a business card. These cards are easy to get and often contain false information.
  • To investigate the person or company, get a list of references with phone numbers and addresses, and check them out. Ask for proof of license and insurance or bonding. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against them, and to report any suspicious or inappropriate actions. You can also check with friends, relatives, insurance agents, and adjusters for information on the company or to get suggestions for other contractors.
  • Write down the license plate number of the vehicle driven by the builder or contractor to aid in identification. Take note of the color, make, and model of the vehicle that is being driven, with special attention to whether or not the vehicle has company logos, names, addresses, phone numbers or identifying information. Be especially suspicious of unmarked trucks, vans, or other vehicles. If you have already been scammed, to call law enforcement.
  • If you have questions about the identity or credentials of a builder or contractor, one of the most helpful things you can do is call the Jackson Area Homebuilders’s Association at the number listed above for a list of reputable contractors. The Association services eleven counties, including Madison, Gibson, Haywood, Crockett, Carroll, Benton, Decatur, Henderson, McNairy, Chester, and Hardin counties. At this time of need, the Association will also serve residents of Hardeman county who were affected by the storm.
  • Be very suspicious of high pressure door-to-door tactics and offers of reduced prices due to “leftover materials” from other jobs. This is especially important to remember when you are under pressure or are stressed from the loss you have suffered. These rip-off artists depend on being able to pressure you to act fast to get the “bargain” they offer. Many of the scam builders will have inferior or inappropriate materials and will not provide you with adequate workmanship. They often pressure you to spend a large amount of money on only temporary repairs. They may even damage your home. They will be gone as quickly as they appeared, and you may have no opportunity to question them about the work or take legal action against them.
  • Be suspicious of a builder or contractor who asks you to pay for the whole job at the beginning. You should never pay even a deposit until you are sure of the contractor and the company. Even then, you should never pay more than one-third of the amount up front.
  • Pay by check or money order, but not cash. This is so you have a record of the transaction. You should question the builder or contractor very closely about his coverage for worker’s compensation, property damage to your home, and general liability.
  • Never write a check or pay cash to the individual contractor for building materials. Make the builder give you a written list of the materials required for the job, and then you go directly to the supplier of your choice, and consult with them. Many times these stores will have personnel who know the contractor and who may know about the materials needed for the job. Once you purchase the materials and they are delivered, you should monitor the use of the materials by the builder.
  • Maintain contact with the materials supplier and ask them to contact you if the builder attemps to return or exchange any materials, especially in return for cash. Remember that you purchased the materials; you own them; and the builder or contractor should not be allowed to take away the “leftover” materials that are in good condition. The contractor or builder may be required under the contract, to clean up the work site and haul away scraps and trash.
  • Be aware that, under certain circustances, builders, contractors, and suppliers can take a lien to secure payment for such things as labor, materials, or payment for work that is partially completed. If this happens, contact an attorney immediately.
  • If you have insurance, you should contact your insurance agent immediately. If at all possible, you should wait for the adjuster since your insurance policy may require the adjuster’s visual inspection before the insurance authorizes payment for repairs. If possible, you should make only temporary repairs until an adjuster looks at the damage. Get at least three estimates from three different reputable builders. Ask if there is a charge for the estimate. Remember that the best person for the job is not necessarily the lowest bidder.
  • Always keep a written record of your activities in a diary, notebook, or calendar. This is an important source of information when trying to recall details about your discussions with the contractors and builders and other post disaster events.
  • When you decide on a builder or contractor, don’t let them force you to sign the contract immediately. First, read the contract carefully and ask as many questions as it takes for you to understand the terms. If you can’t read or don’t read well, ask someone you trust to read it to you, or consult a lawyer. You should make sure that the contract specifies when the work will start and when it will finish. Make sure it has clear, understandable terms as to what happens and who is liable if either party “breaches” (doesn’t act according to the terms) the contract.
  • For door-to-door sales a proper contract should contain a section that addresses the “buyer’s right to cancel.” Usually, the homeowner has up to three business days to cancel the contract, but the cancellation should be in writing. Many times the homeowner will get promises from the builder or contractor to do other repairs or work that is not in the contract. This might come up when the homeowner notices additional damage or wants to change the way something is being done. It is extremely important to add these additional items to the contract. If you don’t do this, the builder or contractor may not have to do them or may fail to do them, claiming no memory of your discussion.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks that are not filled in properly. Never release the final payment for the work until all of the work is completed according to the contract. If there is anything about the contract that you do not understand, you should consult a lawyer.
  • You should be extremely careful about signing a contract for building or repair service that requires you to use your home or property as security or collateral for the work.  This is very risky. If you fail to act according to the agreement, you could be in danger of losing your home. Many times, unscrupulous builders or contractors will inspect your home and tell you that your repair will cost a large amount of money. Then, they will explain that they just happen to know someone who will lend you the money, usually in exchange for using the title to your home as security for the loan. The loan is usually at a very high interest rate and spread out over a long period of time.  Many of these contracts will not have provisions designed to protect the homeowner or borrower. You should always have a lawyer review the contract or agreement before you sign it. After the agreement is signed, it is much more difficult to get help with problems, even from a lawyer.

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Bill Collectors Bugging You

Bill Collectors Bugging You?

You do have rights!

The law gives you rights when a bill collector tries to make you pay a debt. This law is called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It tells bill collection agencies what they cannot legally do to collect money from you.

Does this law help you?

Has a debt you owe been turned over to a collection agency? Then this law does help you. What if the company you owe money to tries to collect from you themselves? Then usually this law cannot help you.

It's against the law for bill collectors to lie or mislead you

It’s against the law for bill collectors to do any of these things:

  • Make you think they are some-one else (like a lawyer or a deputy sheriff)
  • Say you will be arrested or put in jail for a debt
  • Lie to you when collecting a debt
  • Tell you they are going to garnish your wages or take your property (unless they have a legal right to do that).

It’s against the law for bill collectors to threaten or pester you.

  • The law says bill collectors cannot:
  • Threaten to hurt a person, property, or anyone's good name
  • Use dirty or bad language
  • Call many times a day
  • Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. This is against the law unless they know those times are better for you.
  • Call over and over to bother you or anyone else about your debt.
  • Threaten or abuse anyone else about your debt.

How to stop bill collectors from bothering you

You can stop all their calls and letters.

You can tell bill collectors not to contact you, your boss, your relatives or anyone else.

To do this, you must write to the bill collectors. You can’t just tell them over the phone.

You can use the letter in the PDF below. Just fill in the blanks. Be sure to put the date on it. Keep a copy of the letter. If you can, it’s a good idea to send the letter by certified mail.

Want to write your own letter instead of using ours? Tell the bill collector to stop contacting you or anyone else about this debt. Say this is your right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Does anyone in your home have health problems? Do the phone calls or letters make them worse? Then say that in the letter, too.

What happens when the bill collector gets your letter?

They can contact you again only to say if they plan to take you to court.

What if a bill collector bothers you after getting your letter?

Write down the dates they call and what they say. Also save any papers they send you and take them to a lawyer.

Or, you can stop just their calls to you at work.

You must tell them in writing not to call you at work. Your letter must say your boss doesn't let you take these phone calls at work.

Or, you can stop just their calls to your home with Caller ID.

Bill collectors set up their phones so you will not know who is calling. If your phone has Caller ID, press *77. This stops calls from phone numbers that don’t show up on your Caller ID.

You may be able to sue the bill collector for money.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you many other rights. It says bill collectors must treat you fairly and tell the truth. Do you think a bill collector has treated you badly? He or she may have broken the law. The bill collector may have to pay you money. He or she may also have to pay for your lawyer.

If you think the bill collector broke the law, see a lawyer.

If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, call your local Legal Aid office. They may be able to help.

View PDF

Buying a Used Car

Tips for reducing risk when buying a used car

Know what you need and what you can afford.

Think about what you really need in a car before going to the car lot. You should also review your monthly budget and know what monthly car payment that you can afford.

Be patient.

Do not get in a big hurry when shopping for a used car and buy the first car you see. Take your time and go to different dealers.

Test drive the car.

Drive the car at different speeds for several miles. Some dealers may not let you do this. They may say they cannot because of "insurance regulations." Do not buy from this dealer.

Bring a mechanic.

Have a mechanic you trust look at the car and test drive it. If the dealer will not let you do this, go somewhere else.

Ask for a car history report.

Ask the dealer for a copy of the car history report. If the dealer refuses, write down the car’s VIN and run a report yourself.

Do not be fooled by looks.

Do not get fooled by how good a car looks. What counts is how the car runs.

Expect to make repairs.

Cars wear out. You will have to spend some money for maintenance and repairs. Face this fact in the beginning and remember not to spend every dollar you have on a car note.

Don’t opt for the optional warranty.

Warranties on used cars that are sold by a used car dealer are usually worthless or cost much more than they will ever pay back. Purchasing an optional warranty from a dealer is usually a bad idea.

Don’t sign anything without reading it first.

When you sign your name to a document, you are saying that you understand and agree with the document. If there is something that you don’t agree with, ask for the contract to be changed. Never sign a document that you haven’t thoroughly read and do not understand.

Buying a used car is a serious decision!

Gift Card Scams

Scammers are Demanding Gift Cards

Scammers seem to want payment with gift cards these days because it makes tracing practically impossible, says the FTC.  If you have been asked to make payment with a gift card, don't do it.  It is probably a scam to take your money.  Scammers get the codes on the back of the gift card,  obtain the money you put on the gift card, and go about their way.  Gift cards are for gifts, not for payment!  For more information, click here

Sworn Denial

Have you been sued by a company that says you owe them money?

and

Does the court paper say it is on a “Sworn Account”? Or does it have a paper called an “Affidavit”?

If so, this information may help you.

What is a sworn account?

It’s a lawsuit with a signed paper from the company you owe. The law lets some businesses sue you without proving that you owe the debt. They just sign a paper saying they swear that you owe the money.

But you have the right to ask for the paperwork that proves it. What good will that do? It may save you from having a judgment taken against you.

  • The company may have lost the paperwork. This happens a lot if the debt is several years old. What if you ask for proof and the company doesn’t have it? Then the lawsuit should be dropped.
    Or
  • The paperwork may show that the company has waited too long to sue. If so, you can ask the judge to dismiss the case.

What if I want to make the company prove I owe the money? Or, what if I think I don’t owe that much?

You should file a Sworn Denial and go to the hearing on the court date. A copy of a Sworn Denial is with this paper.

The company will then have to prove how much you owe. What if they can’t prove it? Then the company should drop the lawsuit. Or the judge should dismiss it.

Has it been over 6 years since you last paid or promised to pay? Then the company has waited too long to sue. You should file a Sworn Denial. Go to court. Tell the judge you think they have waited too long.

Warning!

Before the hearing, the company’s lawyer may ask you to promise to pay the debt.

You don’t have to talk to their lawyer in the hall. Don’t make a new promise if:

  • You want them to have to prove you owe the money, or
  • You think you don’t owe that much, or
  • You think it has been more than 6 years since you made a payment.

What if you make a new promise to pay? Then the creditor gets 6 more years to collect.

Also, lawyers often want you to agree to bigger payments than you can afford. You don’t have to agree to more than you can pay. See our information on How to keep your paycheck from being garnished.

How do I file a Sworn Denial?

Fill out the paper that came with this one. Don’t sign it until you can sign it in front of a Notary. Can’t find a Notary? Then don’t sign until you go to the Court Clerk’s office. They will have a Notary. File the paper at the Clerk’s office at the court where you were sued.

What happens after I file the Sworn Denial?

You will have to go to court on the hearing date. What if the case is moved to a later time? Then you will have to go on the new date. You may have to tell the judge you want the company to prove the debt.

Ask for these papers:

  • The Contract you signed
  • The Contract showing everything you agreed to, like late fees and interest rates. Example: You signed up for a credit card because the interest rate was only 10%. The contract should say 10%; and
  • All the bills they sent to you. Make sure it shows all payments you made. Make sure the late fees and interest charges are correct.

The creditor’s lawyer will often give you some records. What if you think the lawyer didn’t give you all the papers you want? You have the right to tell the judge. The judge can order the lawyer to give you the papers you need.

What if I owe the debt and don’t want to fight about it?

Then you don’t have to go to court. If you don’t go, the company wins. This is called a default judgment. The company won’t have to show records to prove how much you owe.

Will I be arrested if I don’t show up for court?

No. But, if you get a subpoena (suh-pea-nuh), you must go to court.

What is a judgment?

It is a decision by the court. Usually, it says you owe a certain amount of money to the company. Once they have a final judgment, the company may take legal steps to collect the debt. 

What should I do if the company gets a judgment against me?

File a paper with the court called a Personal Property Exemption Claim. This will protect your personal belongings and bank accounts. You don’t need a lawyer. Try to file it within 10 days. Find out how from our booklet Have You Been Sued?

Can they garnish my paycheck?

Maybe. Garnishing means taking money out of your paycheck before you are paid. The good news: the law may protect you from garnishment. Do you get $217.50 a week or less after taxes are taken out? Then the company can’t take anything from your paycheck.

What if you get more than $217.50 a week? Then 10 days after the court date, the company may garnish your paycheck. The good news: you can stop a garnishment. One way is to make a time payment agreement with the company. Or, you can file a Slow Pay Motion with the court. Find out how from our booklet, How To Keep Your Paycheck From Being Garnished.

Can the company take my Social Security/ SSI check?

Maybe. Do you get your check directly and don’t have a bank account? Then the creditor can’t take it.

Is your money in a bank account? Then you need to file a paper with the court to protect your money. Within 10 days after the court date, file a Personal Property Exemption Claim. Be sure to list your bank account on it. Find out how from our booklet Have You Been Sued?

Can I appeal if I don’t agree with the judgment?

Yes, but you only have 10 days from the court date to appeal. The 10 days includes weekends and holidays. You may have to pay an appeal bond. Are your income and assets very low? Then you may be able to Page 3 of 3 file a pauper’s oath. If you do, you won’t have to pay the appeal bond. The court clerk can tell you about the pauper’s oath.

What happens if I appeal?

The case goes to a higher court. It gets treated like a new case. There is usually a time limit to set a date for a hearing. Most people need a lawyer for this. What if you lose the appeal? You will owe more court costs and may also owe lawyer fees. Usually Legal Services only does appeals if we took the case before the appeal.

Download a Print Version

State of Tennessee Sworn Denial Form

How Legal Aid Can Help You Stay Clean

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has identified four major dimensions that support a life in recovery. West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) can help you help yourself by supporting you in these areas:

  • Health: WTLS can help you make sure you are getting the support you need to lead a healthy life.
  • Home: WTLS can aid you in maintaining a stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose/Employment: WTLS may be able to help you overcome barriers to getting a job and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community: WTLS can help you seek protection from unsafe relationships so that you can build healthy relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

You may face obstacles in these areas. Whether or not these obstacles are directly caused by the disease of addiction, we may be able to help!

 

WTLS addresses legal problems affecting basic needs for food security, shelter, medical care, income security, special education, and freedom from abuse.

  • Is someone other than your doctor trying to interfere with your Medically Assisted Treatment Plan? You may be protected by federal law.
  • Are you having trouble buying healthy food or paying for healthcare? Our Benefits Program and SNAP Outreach and Education Project provide advice and representation to individuals seeking federal, state, and local assistance. 
  • Our Consumer Law Project provides advice and representation with problems like debt collection, repossessions, garnishment, student loan collection, and creditor harassment.
  • Are you having trouble with a current or prospective landlord because of your past addiction or treatment?
    • According to the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, landlords cannot discriminate based on your past addiction or treatment. Our Fair Housing Enforcement Project may be able to help!
    • Also, check out our Homelessness Prevention Project, Default and Foreclosure Prevention Project, and Housing Counseling Project for more resources. You deserve a safe and secure place to live while you recover, and we want to help.
Representing Yourself in General Sessions Court

No lawyer?
You can speak for yourself in General Sessions Court

This information is about lawsuits for money or property in General Sessions Civil Court. It doesn’t talk about criminal cases in General Sessions Criminal Court. In the civil court, the judge does NOT give you a free lawyer. It is always better to have a lawyer when you go to court. This information is about going to General Sessions Civil Court without a lawyer. This information does NOT talk about eviction lawsuits in General Sessions Court.

The information will be presented in two sections. The first section helps people who are being sued for money or things. The second section helps people who need to sue someone for money or property.

You don’t have to have a lawyer.

If you are sued, get a lawyer if you can. If you can’t get a lawyer, you can still go to General Sessions Court. It’s always better to have a lawyer, but you don’t have to have one there. You must be able to explain your side of the case. Is your side of the case hard to explain? Then you need a lawyer.

Does the other side have a lawyer? Then you may need one, too.

If you need a lawyer, you must find one on your own. The judge will not appoint a free lawyer for you. Some lawyers will meet with you one time for free. Some lawyers may charge a small fee to meet with you one time. If you talk to a lawyer, ask what they will charge you.

Part 1: What if you are sued

The sheriff or deputy must give you a copy of the warrant. This is so you can see who is suing you and what they say. It’s also to make sure you know about the court date far enough ahead. The deputy can’t just call on the phone and tell you to come to court. It’s not good enough for the deputy to tell your family or friends.

What if the deputy didn’t give you the warrant in person? Go to court anyway.

Does the person who sued you owe you money? Or do they have your things? You can also sue them. This is called a counter suit. It asks for money because they sued you when they had your money or things. The money you ask for is called damages. If you do a counter suit, the judge will hear both lawsuits at the same time.

If you are sued, don’t just forget about the warrant. Go to court when you are supposed to.

What if you can’t make it on the court date? Call the clerk and ask for a new date. If you have a good reason, the judge may agree to a new date. What if you don’t have a good reason? The judge may go ahead and decide against you. What if you don’t show up at court? The judge may decide against you even if you are right.

 At the trial, bring your witnesses. Bring all the papers you have about the case to show the judge. Say exactly what happened.

Do you think you can work something out with the person who sued you? Then ask the judge for mediation. Mediation means someone helps you try to agree. This person is called a mediator. The mediator listens to both sides. The mediator tries to find a way you can both agree. Then the judge won’t need to decide.

How to protect your things if you are sued and lose

If you lose and don’t appeal, you can file court papers to protect your things. Everyone has a right to protect a certain amount of money and belongings. People you owe money to can’t touch this. Things no one can take are called exempt property.

What things can you protect?

These things are always protected:

  • Necessary clothes for you and your family
  • Your family pictures
  • A family Bible
  • School books and
  • Health care aids, such as wheelchairs or medical equipment.

You also have a right to protect $10,000 worth of personal property. Personal property means money, furniture, cars and every other kind of belonging except real estate. What if the car or furniture is mortgaged and you don’t pay? The person or place who has the mortgage can take the property. But no one else can take it if it’s part of your exempt property.

How do you protect $10,000 worth of personal property? You must file a paper in court within 10 days after you lose the lawsuit. The paper is called a Claim of Exempt Property. You can get this paper from Legal Aid. You must file this paper every time you are taken to court on a debt.

Some money you get is also exempt even after you put it in the bank. Exempt means it can’t be taken because of what the judge decided. This is true for money that comes from:

  • Social Security
  • SSI
  • Families First
  • Child support
  • Alimony
  • Unemployment
  • VA
  • Workers Comp
  • State, federal or city pension checks.

Did you lose the lawsuit? Then the court decided you owe the other side money. The judge’s decision is called a judgment against you. The Court can take your money or sell your things to pay the debt. It doesn’t have to tell you first. To protect your exempt bank accounts, you must file a Claim of Exempt Property. List those bank accounts on the paper. Be sure only exempt money is put into that bank account.

What if your wages are being garnished? A creditor must go to court first to get an order saying you owe the money. You can stop the garnishment by working out a payment plan with the creditor. The plan should be signed by you and the creditor. Then it should be filed with the court.

What if you and the creditor cannot agree on a plan? You can file a paper called a Stay of Garnishment and Slow-Pay Motion in court. It asks the judge to let you make payments. The judge may stop the garnishment and set up a payment plan. The Clerk’s office at the Court can give you a Slow-Pay motion. Also see our brochure “How to keep your paycheck from being garnished.”

 

Part 2: How to sue someone in General Sessions Civil Court

General Sessions Court handles cases where the money or property is worth $25,000 or less. If the case is an eviction or a case where you are trying to get your property back, then the amount can be more than this.

Where can I file the lawsuit?

It depends on your case and where the person you are suing lives. Each county in Tennessee has a General Sessions Court. You can sue in:

  • The county where the person you want to sue lives; or
  • The county where the property or money is; or
  • If there is a contract, in the county where you made the contract; or
  • If there was a car wreck, in the county where the wreck was.

How to file the lawsuit.

Go to the office of the General Sessions Court Clerk. Ask for a paper called a civil warrant. Fill out the paper, give it to the clerk and pay the fees. If you are 18 or older, you may do it yourself. If you are under 18, a parent or guardian must sue for you.

Do you need to get your money or things back from someone? To get your things back, you have to fill out a special paper. It is called a Warrant to Recover Personal Property. On the warrant you must put:

  • Your name and address. You are called the plaintiff. This means you are the person suing.
  • The name and address of the person who has your property or money. This person is called the defendant.
  • What property or money you are suing for.

Are you suing for money? Then write down why the other person should pay you the money.

Are you suing for property? Write down each thing you want returned. Put down as much information as you know. If you know the brand name or serial number, write it down. Say how much the market value is for each item. Market value is how much the property would sell for now, not what it cost new. Do you have papers that show you bought or own the property? Make copies of those papers. Take them to court. Give them to the clerk with the warrant. You will have to swear that what you put down is true. It is against the law to lie about this.

The court clerk may help you fill out the warrant. The clerk will give a docket number to your case. Keep this number. You will need this number to ask the clerk about your case.

How much will it cost to file a lawsuit?

You have to pay a filing fee. This fee is different from county to county. It is usually $70 to $150. If you sue more than one person, you must pay more. Call the court clerk to find out the cost.

What if you have little income and can’t pay the filing fee? Ask the clerk to let you fill out an Affidavit of Indigency. This is a paper that says why you can’t pay the fees right now. If the judge okays it, he will decide who pays the fees at the end of the case.

In some cases, you have to fill out a bond. A bond says you promise not to drop the case before it is decided. The bond says you will pay any court costs the judge says you owe. You must sign the bond. You must also get someone else to sign with you. The other person who signs is called your surety.

What happens if you drop the case? You have to pay a fee. If you don’t pay the fee, the person who signed with you must pay it.

Before the hearing

Each person you sue must get a copy of the warrant. They must get it before the court sets a date for a hearing. Usually, the Sheriff gives them a copy of the civil warrant. This is called serving the warrant. After the warrant is served, the clerk or sheriff calls to tell you the court date. 

In some counties, you help pick the court date. If you are helping pick the date, give enough time for the warrant to be served before the hearing.

 Call the clerk the day before the hearing. Make sure the hearing date has not been changed.

 

What if you can’t go to court on the court date? Call the court clerk and ask if you can get a later date. This is called getting a continuance. The judge can give you a new date. Or the judge can throw out (dismiss) the case.

Before the hearing, get together all the papers that back up your side. Write down all the facts that you want the judge to know. Decide if you have any witnesses and what you will ask them. Write down the questions for each witness so you won’t forget.

What if you change your mind about bringing the case? You can drop it, but you have to pay the court fees. What if you change your mind again? You can file it again later. But you can only file the lawsuit 2 times. After that, you can’t file the same case again in General Sessions Court.

Witnesses

You may want to call witnesses. A good witness is someone who saw or heard what happened.

Do you think your witness might not show up? Do you want to make sure the witness is there for the hearing? Then you may want to ask the court to order the witnesses to be there. This court order is called a subpoena [suh PEA nuh].

You should subpoena a witness as soon the court date is set. If you wait until just before the hearing date, it may be too late. The clerk may help you fill out the subpoena. You must pay a fee before the court will send a subpoena. What if you can’t pay the fee? Ask if you can sign an Affidavit of Indigency that says you can’t pay. If it is OK’d, you won’t have to pay up front. The sheriff or deputy will give the subpoena to the witness.

When you go to court

Don’t wear t-shirts with logos or phrases, low-cut tops, or short shorts.

The court will have many cases on the same day. Get there early. Wait in the courtroom until the judge or clerk calls your case. When you hear your name, stand up and let the judge know you are there.

The judge will listen to both sides. Witnesses will get a chance to talk. Both sides can ask the witnesses questions.

The judge decides how much you get. It may be all you asked for in the lawsuit. Or it could be some of what you asked for. Sometimes the judge will decide you don’t get anything.

Will you get more if you and the person you are suing can agree? If you think you can agree, ask the judge for mediation. Mediation means someone helps you try to agree. This person is called a mediator. The mediator listens to both sides. The mediator tries to find a way you can both agree. Then the judge won’t need to decide.

What if you don’t get mediation or can’t agree? Then you talk to the judge. You tell your side first. Tell the judge what property or money you are trying to get back. Tell the judge what happened to make the other person owe you. Call your witnesses and ask them the questions you wrote down. Give the judge any papers showing what happened. Tell why the money or property belongs to you.

If the person you sued comes, they tell their side of the case. What if they do not come? You may still have to tell your side of the case. Ask the judge to decide in your favor.

The judge listens to the witnesses and looks at the papers you provide. Then the judge decides. Sometimes the judge will wait to decide. The judge may want to think about the case more or look up something in the law. This is called taking the case under advisement.

If you win

You get an order that says you can try to collect the property or money. If the person that you sued disagrees, they have 10 days to appeal to Circuit Court.

If the person you sued doesn’t appeal, they may just give you the property or money.

Getting your property back.

What if they don’t just give back the property? You can ask the court to give you a paper called a writ of possession. This paper says they must give you the property. A sheriff’s deputy will take this paper and pick up the property. The deputy will return it to the court for you.

What if the court tells the person to pay you for the property? Then you have a judgment against them. You must try to collect it.

Collecting a judgment

What if you win the lawsuit and the court orders them to give you money? This is called a judgment. The court may also order them to pay you back for the court costs. You must get the money from the person you sued. The court won’t get the money for you. What you can do to try to collect the money:

  • Do you know where the person you sued works? You can ask the Clerk’s office to take the money out of his paycheck. This is called garnishment.
  • Do you know which bank the person you sued uses? You will need to know the bank name and address. Ask the Clerk to take the money out of the account. This is called an attachment or garnishment.
  • You might get the court to take property from the person you sued. You must tell the Clerk where the property is. The deputy of the court sells the property at an auction. The court gives you the money from the sale.

Do you have questions about this? Ask the court clerk. They can explain how things work. But the clerk can’t give you legal advice.

If you lose

You don’t get an order to get your property or money. You will have to pay the court costs.

If you still want to try and get the money or property, you can appeal. You must file an appeal within 10 days from the time the judge decides. You will get a new hearing in the Circuit Court. The Court will treat the case as if your first trial did not happen.

You will have to pay an appeal bond. You may not have to pay if you can get an Affidavit of Indigency. This is a paper that says you can’t pay the bond. If the judge OKs it, you won’t have to pay. You should have a lawyer to appeal. Suing in Circuit Court is harder and costs more than General Sessions Court. You will have to pay the costs if you lose.