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New Vail Valley adults have new responsibilities

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

My older son will turn 18 this week. I have had the unmitigated joy of watching him turn into a fine young man. I have had the pleasure, too, of watching his friends and classmates bloom. Graduating high school seniors now , I have known many of them since they were toddlers. And so, for the next few weeks, for them, here’s a primer on becoming an adult.

As our 18-year-olds will spread out far and wide, this series is intended to be general and does not consider the specifics or idiosyncrasies of Colorado law. Instead, it is intended to address what might be common in at least most jurisdictions, and to summarize the general law.

New responsibilities, consequences

What does it mean to be 18? Notwithstanding the rightful thrill of new adulthood, beware, the corners are a little sharper now. Consider, first, that when you turn 18, you have become an adult in the eyes of the law. And, like so many things, that is freighted with both good and bad. When you cross the threshold to adulthood, what might have once passed for appropriate (or at least forgivable) behavior is forever changed. The bar is set a little higher and the cost of “fouls” can be much greater.

The word “majority” describes the time in life when a person is no longer a child (or a “minor”). Historically, the age of majority was set at 21 in most states but after ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971 (giving 18-year-olds the right to vote), most states lowered the age of majority to 18. Although for most purposes you are treated like (and held to be) an adult, not all indentments of adulthood are conferred at 18.

For example, the right to drink alcoholic beverages is not conferred until the age of 21 and the right to obtain at least a conditional license to operate a motor vehicle may be bestowed upon a minor at 16. At 18, you can, however: enter into binding contracts; marry without the consent of a guardian; sue or be sued in your own name; buy or sell property (including real estate and stock); make a will; inherit property outright; vote; consent to medical treatment and join the military.

At 18, the law may treat you differently when it comes to driving. In essence, the law now holds you (not your parents) responsible for your actions. At age 18, you assume liability for your own traffic violations or accidents. Until that age, in many jurisdictions, your parents could be held legally responsible for at least some of the damages and financial losses caused by your actions. But at 18, that is no more.

You must have your own car insurance although, if you are a student and your parents co-own your car, they may be able to carry you on their policy until age 24.

You should note that if you are under 21 and are caught drinking alcohol, you could wind up with a suspended driver’s license even, in some jurisdictions, if you were nowhere near a car.

If you drink and drive, you are in serious trouble. Although driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal at any age, in most jurisdictions, what constitutes “under the influence” is much lower for a person under the age of 21. In many jurisdictions, you can be convicted of driving under the influence even without a breath, blood or urine test so long as the trier of facts determines from the circumstances that the person was under 21 years of age, drank alcohol and drove. If you are convicted of a DUI offense, you may face a stiff fine, loss of driving privileges and even jail time.

Your first lease

At 18, if you’re not living in the dorms, you may be renting your first apartment. There are a few things you should know. First, not all leases are alike. Some are for a “term” (that is, a specific period of time). Some are month-to-month. Some towns and cities have specific rules guiding how much rent can be increased. Unless a lease is for longer than one year, it does not have to be in writing although there are advantages to doing so. A written lease spells out specifically what is required of both parties. Often pre-printed “form” leases favor the landlord; you are free, however, so long as the landlord agrees, to modify the lease to suit your needs.

Almost all landlords charge a security deposit which is money that the landlord holds as “insurance” against property damage and/or unpaid rent. Typically, a security deposit is equal to the first month’s rent. Security deposits are refundable in most jurisdictions within 60 days (although this varies from state to state; California, for example, requires that security deposits be refunded within three weeks). If a security deposit is not refunded, the landlord must give a written explanation why and account for how the money was spent (for example, to clean the apartment).

Renters insurance is a good idea and is generally inexpensive. It protects your things from uncompensated damage.

If you don’t pay your rent on time, your landlord can (and generally will) give you a notice to pay up or you will have to leave within three days (specific contract terms may extend or modify this time). Unless your lease says otherwise, the landlord is generally required to keep the apartment in a state of reasonable repair. However, if something is damaged and it was your fault, it will fall to you to pay for the repair.

A landlord can generally enter your apartment without permission in an emergency. In certain non-emergency situations, landlords can often enter upon 24-hours prior written notice (again, your lease may modify these terms).

Giving notice

If you decide to move, you have to give the landlord notice. Usually “notice” is a month in advance unless the lease terms say otherwise. Landlords may evict you for breaches of the lease in addition to not paying rent.

If you fail to pay your rent or otherwise breach the lease, you will probably be sued. Damages can consist of the rental amount for the entire lease term, attorney fees costs of cleaning, re-renting the apartment, and other similar expenses.

If you sign a lease agreement with another and he moves, you may be stuck with the whole caboodle. If a lease agreement is “joint and several” (in other words, what applies to all, applies to each), you may be stuck if your buddy bails.

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to you based upon your race, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation or disability.

In Part Two, we’ll look at “having fun” as an adult.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970/926.4461 or at his e-mail address: robbins@colorado.net.


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