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Vail Law: Here’s a guide for those just reaching age 18

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

Author’s note: I wrote and first ran this series when my first son was nearing high school graduation in the Vail Valley. As my second son graduates this weekend, I thought the time was right to re-run it for he and his peers. Congratulations, Parke, and the entire Class of 2010! Seize the moment and conquer the world.

Graduation is this weekend at most local high schools. We are about to unleash our new 18-year-olds upon the world. But what does it mean, legally, to be 18? Notwithstanding the rightful thrill of new adulthood, beware – the corners are a little sharper now.

This series is intended to be general (as our 18 year olds will likely spread out far and wide) and does not consider the specifics or idiosyncrasies of Colorado law. Rather, it is intended to address what might be, in at least some jurisdictions, and to summarize much of what is common among them.



Consider first, these ominous words – 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, much greater.

A few things upon which to ponder upon reaching your adulthood include: military service, voting, the rights and consequences of alcohol and drugs and myriad other issues.



‘Majority’ rules!

The word “majority” is a legal term to describe the time when a person is no longer a child, or a “minor”. Although reaching the age of majority at 18 means that for most purposes you are treated like (and held to be) an adult, not all rights of adulthood are conferred. For example, the right to drink alcoholic beverages is not conferred until the age of 21. At 18, you can, however enter into binding contracts, marry without the consent of a guardian and sue or be sued in your own name, among other responsibilities.

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. You must have your own car insurance although, if you are a student, your parents may be able to carry you on their policy until age 24 (presuming your parents are co-owners of your 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, 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 it’s determined 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 jail time.

Your first place

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, but 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 particular needs.

Renters insurance is a good idea and generally inexpensive. It secures 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 of 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 (like chucking your iPod through the drywall in a fit of rage), it will fall to you to pay for the repair.

A landlord can generally enter your apartment without permission in an emergency.

If you decide to move, you have to give the landlord notice, usually a month in advance unless the lease terms say otherwise. If you move before the end of a lease, you may be in breach of the lease.

A landlord 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 unpaid rent, attorney fees and cleaning, advertising and other costs.

If you sign a lease agreement with your seven best pals and they move, depending upon what the lease says, you may be stuck with the whole caboodle.

Next time: “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 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 robbins@colorado.net.


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