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Vail Daily column: Now that you’re 18 …

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a six-part series.

Our local high schoolers have just graduated. Full of hope and promise, they are about to be unleashed upon the wider 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 to conquer the world) and does not consider the specifics or idiosyncrasies of Colorado law. Rather, it is intended to address what might be the law, in at least some jurisdictions, and to summarize much of what is common among them.

BECOMING AN ADULT

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, Internet downloading, exercising your right to vote, the rights and consequences of alcohol and drugs, marriage and partnership matters, operating a motor vehicle, emancipation from the family nest and a host of matters revolving around the Maypole of “having fun.”

AGE OF MAJORITY

The word “majority” is a term at law to describe 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 in 1971 (giving 18 year olds the right to vote), most states lowered the age of majority to the age of 18. 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 (or, in Colorado, to purchase recreational marijuana) 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; vote in state, local and national elections; consent to medical treatment and join the military (it is interesting to note that the term “infantry” — a foot soldier — derives from the term “infant” — or child). Although a minor can obtain a driver’s license at 16, he/she cannot be employed as a driver until reaching the age of majority.

DRIVING LAWS

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, under some conditions, your parents may be able to carry you on their policy past the age of 21. You should note that if you are under 21 and are caught drinking alcohol, then 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, much lower for a person under the age of 21 (it can be as much as 800 to 1,000 percent lower). 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 all the circumstances, that the person was under 21 years of age, drank alcohol and drove. If you are convicted of a DUI offense, then you may face a stiff fine, loss of driving privileges, and jail time.

LIVING AS AN ADULT

At 18, if you’re not living in the dorms, then 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 raised within a given period of time. 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 specifically spells out 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 in an amount equal to the first month’s rent. Security deposits are refundable in most jurisdictions within 60 days (although this varies from state to state; in California, for example, security deposits must be refunded within three weeks). If a security deposit is not refunded, then the landlord must give a written explanation why, and account for how, the money was spent.

Renters insurance is a good idea and generally inexpensive. It secures your things from uncompensated damage. Many landlords require such insurance.

If you don’t pay your rent on time, then 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, then 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).

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. If you move before the end of a lease term, then 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 the rental amount for the entire lease term, attorney fees and costs, costs of cleaning, costs of re-renting the apartment and other similar expenses.

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. If a lease agreement is “joint and several” (in other words, what applies to all, applies to each), then you alone may be stuck if your buddies bail.

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

In Part 2, we’ll see, is “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 with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, robbins@slblaw.com or robbins@colorado.net.


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