Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Legal Definitions - A

Today is the start of the A to Z Blogging Challenge.  My topic is LEGAL DEFINITIONS EXPLAINED IN PLAIN [AND HOPEFULLY HUMOROUS] ENGLISH.  Because most of my practice is landlord/tenant law, that's where most of the definitions come from.  As always, nothing here is intended as legal advice.

I hope you enjoy!

Abandon – When a tenant moves out [or is evicted] and leaves behind personal property, the landlord is generally required to store the personal property for several days, to allow the tenant time to retrieve it. After that time expires, it is deemed “abandoned property.” Some examples from my own practice – old car and lawnmower abandoned at the bottom of the swimming pool, fish tank in garage abandoned with [at-the-time] living fish inside, broken couches and kitchen appliances too numerous to count. Some of my clients have had to spend thousands of dollars for trash-out companies to remove all the abandoned property some tenants leave behind.

Agreement – A property owner agrees to rent a habitable dwelling or commercial space to a tenant, who agrees to pay rent and treat the property like a reasonable human being would treat his own home or business [because it is his home or business]. It is not uncommon for either side to fail to live up to their bargain, which is why we have lawyers. Can be oral or written, but remember the most important legal adage - if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist.

Ambiguity – A phrase in an agreement which can be interpreted to have more than one meaning. This is also why we have lawyers, because sometimes it takes a good lawyer to come up with a reasonable-sounding ambiguity that benefits your side of the argument.

Answer – The Defendant/tenant's response to the Plaintiff/landlord's eviction Complaint. Ninety-nine percent of all Answers state the landlord is a slumlord. Not all of those Answers are false.

Apartment – Individual dwelling units located within a larger structure. Generally, the entire structure is owned by the landlord, the individual dwelling units are rented by tenants, and the cost for the upkeep of the common areas is included in the rent. If each dwelling unit is owned individually, with upkeep of the common areas charged as “HOA dues”, that is generally called a condominium complex, not an apartment building, because people who buy their dwelling units generally don't want to be mistaken for low-life tenants. When tenants rent a condominium from an individual owner, things get even more confusing.

Appeal – A pleading filed by the losing party which states the judge was all wrong. Not all appeals are pointless, because not all judges know what they're doing.

Attorney – Also known as lawyer. Depending on the outcome of the case, the attorney is either the answer to the person's prayers, or the cause of the person's ruined life. No consideration is generally given by the client to the premise that the actual facts of the case might have been the cause of the result. Sometimes, the actual facts of the case really did have nothing whatsoever to do with the result. That's why we have lawyers.


  1. "This is also why we have lawyers, because sometimes it takes a good lawyer to come up with a reasonable-sounding ambiguity that benefits your side of the argument." LOL!

    Excellent stuff, Dena. :) Is there really no difference between an Attorney and a Lawyer? Even subtle difference? I'm fascinated when English seems to have two very different words for exactly the same thing. Why? From what context did the words derive, and why do we retain them both? Just curious--don't know if you know. :)

    1. Okay you made me curious. These are copied from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

      Attorney - early 14c. (mid-13c. in Anglo-Latin), from Old French atorné "(one) appointed," past participle of aturner "to decree, assign, appoint," from atorner (see attorn). The legal Latin form attornare influenced the spelling in Anglo-French. The sense is of "one appointed to represent another's interests."

      Lawyer - late 14c. (mid-14c. as a surname), from Middle English lawe "law" (see law) + -iere. Spelling with -y- first attested 1610s (see -yer).

      So it appears one is derived from Old French and the other from Middle English.

      In England, there is a definite difference between a Solicitor and a Barrister. In the USA, an attorney/lawyer can do everything legal-related. In England, a Solicitor handles the case outside of court. The closest USA equivalent would be a transactional attorney, who drafts wills and contracts, handles mergers and acquisitions, that sort of work. A Barrister is allowed to appear in court. So if you needed a will drafted, you would see a Solicitor. If you ever had to litigate the will in court [a will contest], your Solicitor would retain a Barrister.

      In the USA, we do both.

  2. Very entertaining and educational. A car left at the bottom of a swimming pool? Wow. I feel like there's a story there. LOL

    1. Yes, there's definitely a story there! Maybe I'll use that in my next manuscript :)

      Thanks for visiting.