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Ask the County Law Librarian

SCPLL director Coral Henning's weekly column in the Sacramento Press answers reader's questions about the law. Do you have a question for the law librarian? Email us at Or, as always, stop in or give us a call at 916-874-6012.

Read all our columns in the Sacramento Press at " Ask the County Law Librarian."

Solar Panels and HOAs 

Q. I recently submitted an Architectural Modification Application to install solar panels on my roof. The application was approved but with a caveat that said, "Every effort must be made to reduce/minimize visibility of the panels from the streets." This is ridiculous. If you can see the roof from the street, you can see the solar panels. Am I correct in assuming that the HOA cannot legally stop me from installing solar panels? I believe the caveat is an attempt to deny the installation without denying it and that after I spend $30K on this array, they intend to tell me to remove it. continue reading

Traffic Ticket in "Collections"

Q. I have traffic tickets that have been turned into "Collections" in Sacramento County.  I cannot get my driver's license back until the tickets are paid in full. There are attorneys out there that say they can get it back for you. Well, they say there is a 99% chance. I was wondering if I could act as my own attorney and if so, what papers should I file or where would I start? continue reading

When One Parent Wants to Move

Q. I have a shared custody agreement with my daughter's father, a 60/40 arrangement. Our custody order states we cannot move out of Sacramento County. How would I go about relocating with my daughter without committing a crime if her father won't agree to the move? continue reading

Water Conservation

I am a new resident to the area, and driving in my neighborhood I notice that almost every lawn is brown! I hate it, but I figure if everyone is doing it there must be a reason why. Can you shed some light? continue reading


Q: A friend said it was really important for me to put a homestead on my house, but couldn't really explain what it is. Could you direct me to more information about a homestead? continue reading

Can a Former Car Owner be Liable for Towing and Storage Charges? 

Q. Recently, I received a "Notice of Pending Lien Sale for Vehicle Valued $4,000 or Less," on a vehicle that I owned at one time and traded in to a car dealership 1½ years ago. I am listed as an Interested Party on this vehicle, which is currently accruing storage charges at a tow yard. There is a registered owner on the notice (who I don't know), and the DMV is listed as the Legal Owner. I assume I'm an interested party just because of the ownership history of the vehicle, and not because I would be responsible for any storage and towing charges, correct? Pat continue reading

Motorcycles and Lane-Sharing

Q. I moved to California about a year ago from the Midwest, and I've noticed something that, to me, seems pretty dangerous. When I'm driving, whether in town or on the freeway, motorcyclists will often pass me by slipping between my car and the car traveling next to me! At first I thought I was witnessing a few random incidents, but it happens regularly. Is this legal? -Lacey continue reading 

Danger from Unsound Trees

Q- I am a renter on one side of a duplex, the duplex next to me has a tree in their backyard that is over grown and the branches cover my entire backyard. It canopies over 3/4 of my yard. I've contacted my landlord but he ignores my requests. I've contact the renters in that duplex but they also ignore me.   What rights do I have to demand either my landlord or the owners of that tree to get the tree cleaned up before major harm is done? continue reading

Foreclosure notice for prospective tenants  

Q: I recently signed a two-year lease on a house in Sacramento. Shortly after I moved in, I received a notice that the property was going to be sold at a foreclosure sale. It turns out the owner knew he was about to lose the house in a foreclosure when he signed a lease with me. Do I have any rights in this situation? Obviously if I'd known I might have to move again so soon, I wouldn't have signed the lease.    continue reading

How many cars can you park at your home in Sacramento County?  

Q. Hello. I am curious on residential parking laws on vehicle ownership. I am a property owner in Sacramento County and inquiring to see if there is a maximum amount of cars one home can park on their property, operating and/or permanently parked in driveway, etc. Kind regards, ML continue reading

Registration of Living Trusts

Q. My mother created a living trust in 1990 and amended it in 2005 with the aid of an attorney in Sacramento County. My mother died last month. Are there any copies of this trust filed with the county? Sincerely, Robert   continue reading

Appealing a Labor Decision

Q- I work in a restaurant and feel my employer was not paying me for the hours I worked, so I filed a wage claim against my employer for unpaid wages. We had a hearing last week, and I lost, the notice I received said I could appeal, do you have any ideas on how to do this? Courtney   continue reading

Criminal Identity Theft

Q: A family member gave the police my name and social security number when he was arrested. Now there's a criminal record coming up under my name, for something I had nothing to do with. This is causing me problems, making it really hard for me to find a place to rent and in my job search. Can I do anything to clear my name? -Reginald   continue reading

Prenuptial agreements

Q. Hi Law Librarian, My fiancée, Julie, has requested that we write a prenup. We don't really have many assets. I thought only rich people needed prenups. Ronald   continue reading

Newspapers of Record in Sacramento

  Q. Hello, I'm trying to get a list of newspapers of record in Sacramento County for legal noticing. The court clerk told me that the county clerk certifies newspapers, but the county clerk just told me it was the court clerk.  How do I get a list? Thanks in advance, Pranav   continue reading

Sacramento County Court's Public Case Access System new and improved!

Q. What's the deal with the Sacramento County Court's Case Look-up System? I tried to look up my case the other day, to see if the other person had answered so I could file for a default judgment if they hadn't, and the interface is all new and different!  It says I have to have an account now, and that they are going to charge me? Can I still look at my case for free at the Law Library? Larry   continue reading

Valet Parking Regulations

Q. Hello! I'm hoping you can help me find answer to this question. Are valet parking services allowed to prohibit parking in legal parking spaces? There is a valet parking service in town that regularly sets up signs in front a legal parking space, not a passenger loading zone. When I parked there, they told me to move my car and threatened to have it towed. I reviewed the municipal code and wasn't able to find a clear answer, and my email to City parking services went unanswered. Is this permitted? Or am I free to park in this space? Thank you for your help. -Megan   continue reading

Hiring a Contractor

Q- I want to hire a contractor to do some small repairs around my home; I got his information from a flyer that was left on my door.  My husband says because of our age we need to be careful and can only hire him if he is "licensed". What does that mean and how can we check? Betty     continue reading

Bicycles at stop signs  

Q: I'm hoping you can settle a debate my husband and I have every time we drive through midtown.  He says that bicycles don't have to stop at stop signs; they can just treat them as yields and ride through an intersection if it is safe to do so. I believe bicycles are required to stop, just like a car. Who's right? – Miranda  continue reading

What Triggers a Prop 13 Reassessment?

Q. What triggers the assessor to reassess a property? My aunt and my mother owned a house as joint tenants. My mother added me as a joint tenant some years ago. After she passed away, that left me and my aunt as joint tenants. My aunt recently passed away. After I filed an affidavit of death of joint tenant to show that I am now the sole owner, the house was reassessed. I thought that the death of a joint tenant didn't trigger reassessment? Johanna   continue reading

How many cars can you park at a single family home in Sacramento?

Q. How many cars can a property owner park at their single family home in the City of Sacramento? Been meaning to ask that for years. Thank you. Diane   continue reading

Marriage officiants in California

Q. My fiancé and I would like our hometown church's reverend to marry us, but he is not ordained by the church. He told us he had been ordained online years ago and showed us a card as proof. Is there anything else we must do? I'd like to make sure we will be legally married! -Virginia   continue reading

Credit checks for employment

Q: I have been out of work for a while. I applied for a part-time job and they asked me if they could run my credit report, I have never been asked that before, can they do that?  I had to declare bankruptcy 5 years ago, so my credit is not that good. –Matt continue reading

Can I expunge my mayhem conviction?

Hi, I was sentenced to four years state prison with a mayhem charge with one strike. I was recently released with time served after serving three years in county jail. I don't have a criminal background aside from this. Can I eventually have my record expunged so I can move on with my life? — Patrick continue reading

Funeral Homes

Q. Hi Law Librarian, My friend's sister died suddenly at age 58. She did not have a will and did not have her last wishes known. My friend had to quickly make funeral arrangements in Southern California. She really felt pressured by the mortuary to purchase expensive services. What are the laws for consumers and funeral homes? Lynnie   continue reading

Calculating personal injury damages

Q: I fell while visiting someone's apartment a couple of months ago, and was injured. I've called him many times, but so far he's been unwilling to even talk to me about this, so I think I need to sue him. I have a lot of medical bills, lost wages from missing work, and other expenses. I'd also like to get something for my pain and suffering.  How can I figure out how much I should sue for? Jared   continue reading

Next steps in lawsuit

Q.  I just answered a summons for a lawsuit, and hope to be notified of a trial date soon. Can you tell me when the court will let me know when the trial will be? I can't wait to butcher this sucker in court! Louise   continue reading

Terminating an adult adoption

Q. I would like to terminate my adoption with my adoptive father. I agreed to the adult adoption under false pretenses. What steps do I need to take to petition the court, and do I need a lawyer to do so? Are there any examples that I can follow? Are both my birth mother and my adopted father required to sign the petition? Also, what are the legal grounds on which a judge might grant or deny my petition? Any help and/or advice would be greatly appreciated. Laura   continue reading

Is a legal separation the same as being divorced?

Q. I’m curious, are individuals who are legally separated by court order still legally married? Tanya continue reading

Basketball hoops in the street

Q. I was wondering if it is legal to place personal basketball hoops and equipment on public streets in Sacramento County. There are two portable basketball poles/ backboard/hoops placed in the roadway where vehicles would normally park. This is a nuisance and encourages kids to play in a public road. There is a public park within a quarter mile away that has playground equipment.  The basketball equipment has been in the road for a year or more. If this is not legal, who would this be reported to? Thank you! Dan continue reading

Reverse mortgages

Q: Hi Law Librarian, My elderly mother saw a commercial with Robert Wagner talking about the benefits of a reverse mortgage. My father passed away 5 years ago and she has not been in great health and has some medical expenses. Is this a risky proposition? Sasha continue reading

Evicting an Abusive Son 

Q. A few months ago, I let my son move back into my home when he lost his job. It was supposed to be temporary while he looked for work. He's not doing that, and he's becoming abusive toward me and my husband. We want him to move out, and told him that, but he says we can't make him leave. Is there anything we can do? -Fran continue reading

Emancipation of Minors Law 

Q- I just turned 16 and I want to move out of my parents house and take care of myself. Am I allowed to do this? I heard that you can but they say I have to stay home until I am 18. Jason  continue reading

Mobile Home Park Restrictions 

Q: My son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has been in a locked mental facility for the last two and a half years, but now he is ready to "move down." I was planning on my son living with me but I live in a privately owned senior mobile home park. Can the owners of the park not allow him to live with me? The by-laws of the park says he has to register to live with me and the park managers (owners) have to give permission in a written notice. What recourse, if any, do I have if they say he can't live with me? Thanks, Bill  continue reading

Homeowners Bill of Rights 

Q. Hello. I submitted a loan modification application to my mortgage company on August 1. They sent me a letter on August 7 stating that the modification was "under review." On August 20, they recorded a "notice of trustee sale." My neighbor told me that they couldn't do this because of some new law that protected homeowners against foreclosure. Is this true? I can't believe they would sell my house out from under me when we've been talking about modifying the loan! I feel so betrayed. Please help! Molly continue reading

Security Deposit Maximums

Q. I was just informed that my landlord pulled a fast one on me. Is it against the law to require first and last months' rent, a deposit, and a pet deposit? My rent is $850; the deposit is $500; plus a $450 pet deposit! Can my landlord do this? continue reading

Attorney Complaints

Q: I hired a lawyer to help me with my divorce and while he was working on my case, he asked to borrow $10,000. I felt pressured to loan it to him, so I did. It has been 2 years, and he told me he has no intention of paying it back. I feel he was dishonest. How can I get his license revoked so he can't do this to someone else? Juan continue reading

Statutory Will Form

Q: I would like to write a will, to make sure everything is taken care of if anything happens to me. I don't have a lot of property, but as a single parent, I'm concerned about making sure I appoint someone to care for my son in the event of my death. I've called a few lawyers, but it is really expensive, so I think I will need to do it myself. I found lots of forms online, but they're all different. I want to make sure it's legally binding, but I don't know what's required. Any suggestions where I can find information about this? Thanks! Craig continue reading

Who Do I Notify After a Name Change?

Q. Hi Law Librarian, I recently did a name change through the Sacramento court. I changed my birth certificate already, but what else should I change? I know I need to change my driver's license, passport, and social security card. I also own two pieces of property under my old name. How do I change the deeds to my current name? Otis continue reading

Can You Be Arrested for Failing to Pay Back a Payday Loan? 

Q. A few months ago, my father took out a payday loan, but he wasn't able to make all the payments.  Now a bill collector is calling him all the time. The past few calls, they've been telling my dad that they have a warrant, and if he doesn't pay immediately, the sheriff is going to go to his work and have him arrested. They said he committed fraud by getting a loan he never intended to pay back.  Can they really arrest him? continue reading

Affordable Care Act Scam

Q. My mother just told me that she is expecting her new Medicare card in the mail, after having spoken on the phone with someone from 'the government' who needed her personal info (name, address, SSN) in order to enroll her for the Affordable Care Act. I'm pretty sure this is a scam, and told her so. But, is there anything we can do to mitigate the damage? continue reading

Property Left Behind by Former Tenant

Q- I am sort of a new landlord, but I have a situation and I don't know what to do. My tenant gave a proper notice that they were leaving the property. After they left, I found a box that they left in the closet. It looks like knickknacks and dishes. I tried to contact them with the information that was on their rental application, but the numbers are disconnected. What can I do with their stuff??? I want to throw it in the garbage, but I don't want to get in trouble. Thanks, Leo continue reading


Q. Hi Law Librarian, I have had custody of my niece since she was an infant. She is just turning four years old. I haven't done anything legally because I hoped her parents would get their act together but realistically that is not going to happen any time soon. I will be enrolling her in school soon and I want to have legal authority over her. Is that a Guardianship? What's involved with that? Cori continue reading

Family and Medical Leave Act Protection 

Q: I had knee surgery, and have been out of work on disability for 7 weeks. I drive a delivery truck, and have had the same route for several years now. My employer is saying that when I come back to work in two weeks, they're putting me on a different route. I don't want a different route, I want to go back to my usual customers. I thought under FMLA, my job was protected for 12 weeks. Are they allowed to move me to a different route? - Darrell continue reading

Civil Harassment Restraining Order Mediation

Q. I have a big problem with my ex's new girlfriend. She puts up pictures of MY baby on her Facebook page, trying to pretend like he is her's, saying stuff like "Ain't he just like his daddy?" She picks him up from daycare when my ex is supposed to do it--the list goes on. How can I keep her away from my baby? Can I get a restraining order against her? Jasmine continue reading

Exotic Animals in California

Q. My sister-in-law recently bought an animal called a sugar glider, sort of a cross between a flying squirrel and a marsupial. She said that since they're illegal to own in CA, she had to have it shipped from another state as a "hamster" or something similar. Where can I find the California laws that list which animals are illegal to own in the state? Ann continue reading

Claim opposing forfeiture

Q: When my boyfriend was arrested a few days ago, he had almost $900 of my money in his wallet. The cops took the money because they think he got it from selling drugs. Really, it was my money that he was taking to pay some bills for me. I need my money back. They said I could file something, but I'm not sure what. Tanya continue reading

Family law help

Q. Hi Law Librarian, I am contemplating filing for divorce. I have done some research online and the process seems complicated. I have been married for four years and we have a three year old daughter. Is there anywhere I can get some help? Darryl continue reading

Why won't a lawyer take my medical malpractice case?

Q. I have what I think is a good malpractice case, because the doctor clearly made a mistake. But I can't find a lawyer willing to even consider taking my case. Do you have
any idea why? Should I try to represent myself? continue reading

Chickens in the city

Q. About six months ago, my neighbors bought four chickens and built a coop in their backyard. I didn't really have a problem with it at first, but lately I've been finding the hens in my backyard and they leave a big mess. Also, I'm about to put my house on the market and I'm sure that this situation will not look good to many potential buyers. Is there anything I can do to get rid of the chickens? Or to at least force my neighbor to keep them locked in their coop? I've tried asking a few times, but without success.- Dan continue reading

Petition to inspect adoption records

Q- I found out I was adopted 21 years ago, and now that both of my adoptive parents are dead I want to look at the adoption records. Where can I find information about this
and is it even possible? Sue continue reading

Pet Custody

Q: My girlfriend and I recently broke up and she has yet been unwilling to negotiate a shared custody agreement over our dog. I would like to start civil proceedings to ensure that I retain custody of the dog should she not become more agreeable to a reasonable compromise. Can you tell me what paperwork I need to complete and submit to file the case? Thanks! continue reading

Trademark vs. Trade name

Q. Dear Law Librarian, I am starting a new business. I hired a graphic artist and now have a really awesome logo. I have gotten my business license and registered as an LLC with the Secretary of State. How can I protect my logo? What's the difference between a trade name and a trademark? Dana continue reading

Serving Divorce Papers on Incarcerated Spouse

Q. I filed divorce papers months ago. We don't have kids. When I served my husband, I found out he doesn't live at his address any more. It turns out he's now in jail. I'm not sure what to do next and I don't have copies of my paperwork any more. How do I finish up my divorce? Anne    continue reading

Motion to Compel Responses to Interrogatories

Q. I am the plaintiff in a motor vehicle personal injury case in Sacramento Superior Court. I went to your wonderful Civil Self-Help Center, which helped me get started with my complaint, and I want to thank you for offering that service! I also attended the Discovery Class on a Thursday, where the staff attorney explained all about the discovery process, and a Discovery Lab the next Thursday, where, again with the help of the staff attorney, I drafted some Interrogatories, and served them on the defendant. The problem now is she won't answer them. What do I do? Georgette   continue reading

Parking a Commercial Vehicle - What is Considered "Commercial?" 

Q. I am self-employed and use a cargo van for my business. The van is painted all white and used only by me. Would my van be considered a "commercial vehicle" and am I allowed to legally park in Sacramento County on the street of my house (residential parking)? Thanks for your time! -Deborah   continue reading

Vehicle Sales Tax Exemption for Siblings

Q. On Saturday I got a bill in the mail from the State Board of Equalization saying I owed 1400.00 in sales tax and late fees from when I bought my brothers truck last year. I thought as brothers, we were exempt from the tax. Do I owe the money now?? Adam    continue reading

Trees and Solar Panels

Q: My neighbor has been complaining constantly to be about my trees blocking his solar panels. I just received a formal letter from him, saying he's going to sue me if I don't cut my trees so they don't block his solar panels. My trees do not hang over the fence or in any way cross onto his property, so can he really force me to cut them? And can he really sue me? Thanks, Gavin    continue reading

Pet Theft

Q. Hi Law Librarian, I was taking my purebred Akita puppy, Jett, for a walk and I tied her to a parking sign for 2 minutes while I ducked into a bodega to get us some water; when I came out she was gone. Stolen! I called the police, animal control, posted signs, and talked to neighbors and so far nothing. Is this a crime? Michelle continue reading

Must Father Still be Served When Name Not on Birth Certificate & No One Knows Where He Is?

Q. I would like to change my daughter's middle name. She is two months old. I am the only listed parent on her birth certificate and there is no paternity on file anywhere. How do I change her middle name without the other parent's consent or having to be served, since his whereabouts are unknown and there is no established parentage? Julie  continue reading

Private Security Guards

Q. I wonder if you could discuss the authority of private security guards or perhaps just give me links to applicable code sections. I realize they can make a citizen's arrest just like anyone else, but do they have additional powers? And, of course, if they attempt to detain a person, what is their authority in that event?-Jim continue reading

Status of Paid Sick Leave Law

Q: A couple of years ago, I heard about a law being proposed, I think by someone from San Francisco, that would require employers to provide paid sick leave. Since then, though, I haven't heard anything more about it. How would I find out what happened with that bill? Thanks, Glenn   continue reading

Dogs Off Leash

Q. Hi Law Librarian, I have neighbors (husband and wife) that walk a large mix breed dog without a leash in the alley in back of our homes. This alley consists of back yard fences and garages. Unfortunately, this dog and my small pug, Honey Boo Boo, hate each other. The dog when passing my yard throws his whole body against the fence barking and growling which then sets off Honey Boo Boo to do the same. I run into the yard and get my dog away from the fence. I have asked my neighbors when this behavior is happening to control their dog either by voice or with a leash and they said they would but it continues. continue reading

Promissory Notes, Liens, and Foreclosure

Q. I have a promissory note in the amount of $70,000.00 secured with a deed of trust to a house in Tahoe City. The note is now 8 months overdue. I would like to place a lien against another home he owns in Tahoe City as well . . . how do I go about doing that? Also, what is the best way to force payment on this Note? Thank you! Carrie   continue reading

Archery Practice in the Backyard

Q. My neighbors and I have always had a friendly relationship, so I'm not sure what to do about  the current situation. Recently, their 12-year-old daughter saw the movie 'Hunger Games' and became interested in archery. They have set up a target in their backyard that is flush against the fence we share. I'm a little concerned about wayward arrows, especially when coming from a younger person's bow. Is it legal to shoot a bow in your backyard? We live in a residential neighborhood and the houses are fairly close to each other, about 20-30 yards between each house. Annie continue reading

Since When Is Mayhem Funny?

Q- I love the Allstate commercials where there's a guy called "Mayhem" and he creates lots of problems for people. Obviously, the commercial is trying to get people to buy insurance by saying mayhem is everywhere, watch out for mayhem, and protect yourself from mayhem. I've also heard murder and mayhem mentioned together in movies, but what exactly is mayhem? And since when is mayhem funny?? Drew   continue reading

Construction Disputes

Q: My husband and I hired a licensed contractor to renovate a bathroom in our home about three months ago. About six weeks ago, he just stopped showing up altogether, and is not returning any of my calls. There is a lot of unfinished work, and a lot of the work done so far was done very badly. What can I do? Thanks! Cheryl   continue reading

Requesting Documents From Government

Q. I moved to an apartment that is near the railroad tracks in Mid-Town. Trains blow their horns day and night. I understand that the City has applied for a Quiet Zone for that stretch of track. I was trying to get the application and other relevant documents from the City but I am not sure how to do it. Any suggestions? Todd   continue reading

Food Allergies and Restaurants

Q. My wife and I recently discovered that our one-year-old daughter has several food allergies, including peanuts, dairy, eggs, and peas. Are there any laws in California that require restaurants to indicate any of these ingredients on their menus, if they are not immediately obvious from the nature of the dish? Thanks, Nicolai continue reading

Determining Competency in a Durable Power of Attorney

Q- Who determines competency in a Durable Power Of Attorney? It states "The powers you grant below are effective even if you become disabled or incompetent". That is the only statement about competency. Thanks, Richard continue reading

Bus Zone Parking

Q:  I cannot find any specifics to the parking code CVC 22500(i), Sacramento City, Sacramento County. I was parked 24 feet and 31 inches away from a bus sign and received a $367.50 fine. I felt I was parked far enough away from the sign and behind another car parked closer to it. I'm looking for the law that states the exact footage from the sign that would be considered the "bus zone." continue reading

American Opportunity Tax Credit Scam

Q. A friend of mine told me that a company called SOS America is offering $500 Visa Cards to people who are eligible for the American Opportunity Act education credit. All I have to do is fax photocopies of my Driver's License and Social Security Card. I'm a broke college student, and I sure could use the money, especially right before the Holidays. What is the American Opportunity Act education credit? How can I get in touch with the SOS America company?

Local Restrictions on Wood Burning

Q. When the cold weather hit last week I made a comment to my neighbor about how much I was looking forward to using my fireplace this winter (I recently bought my first house). My neighbor said that I can only have fires on approved days, but he didn't know anything more about it. Is this true? I can't imagine the government controlling how often people use fireplaces and or woodstoves in their own homes. - Marie   continue reading

Campaign Signs

Q:  I see campaign signs all over the place on private and public property. What exactly is the law concerning campaign signs? Can one really just throw a giant sign off of Watt Avenue on a public property greenbelt and be legit? How about campaign signs placed on street poles, 10 feet up on commercial property lines without owner's permission, non-leased commercial property fences without owner' permission et cetera. Thanks, Shawn continue reading

Rental Scams

Q. I have listed my home for sale and I have been alerted to two rental scams, one on Craigslist and the other on Zillow showing that my home is for rent not for sale. These scammers have even created a fake email using my name! What can I do?   continue reading 

New California Law Prohibiting Credit Checks on Job Applicants

Q. I am applying for a position at a big company and they will be performing a background check on me. They asked for my social security number and I had to sign waivers about consumer investigative reports, etc. I thought that a new law was passed in California this year that made it so employers could not pull credit reports or use this against a candidate as a hiring decision. I won't be dealing with money and, while I will have access to the company's email database, I will not be handling money or have access to social security numbers. Is this illegal?

Hands-Free Phone Use

Q: I recently was pulled over for using my cell phone while driving. I was not holding it up to my ear. It was lying on my center console in loudspeaker mode. To dial I used speed dial feature for my house. The call was less than a minute. The officer said being on speaker is not hands free. I read an article that claims it is and that although drivers are discouraged from dialing their phone, it is permitted. So I am just trying to clarify how the law actually reads. continue reading

Parking Commercial Vehicles

Q: I live in a neighborhood that has only been partially developed. There is a large area of land that has had residential streets and electrical work put in, but the homes have not been built yet. Some of the people in the neighborhood have started using the undeveloped residential streets to park or store heavy equipment, huge industrial-type trailers, and big-rigs. Sometimes it's just overnight, other times they're are being stored for days or weeks, sometimes unattached to a truck. Is this legal? If not, how do I report it so it stops? - Eric continue reading

Starting a Home Based Bread Business

Q. I am a pretty good baker and I have been told that I should sell my homemade bread to restaurants and specialty food stores. I know that there are regulations and laws that govern producing and selling food items. I also heard that that there is pending legislation regarding homemade items that could help me. Can you tell me what permits etc I might need to get started? Stanley W. continue reading

Points and Driver's License Suspension

Q. I want to know if you will immediately lose your driver's license if you get three tickets in a relatively short period of time (or what the time period is, if there is one), or if that is optional on the part of the DMV.    continue reading

Advanced Health Care Directive

Q: My best friend of over thirty years recently lost her battle with cancer and it was very hard for me to not only lose her, but to have to watch her children make heartbreaking final decisions. I want to know what I can do now so that my kids won't ever have to decide to pull the plug if something happens to me. Angela continue reading

Real Estate Liens

Q: I loaned a friend some money last year. He lost his job, and now he's not paying me back. I want to put a lien on his house, because he owes me a lot of money. How can I do that? - Rich W. continue reading

What is a Class Action?

Q. I have received an email regarding a Class Action Settlement against a company I have done business with. It give dates to "Opt Out and Objection Deadlines" plus a Final Approval Hearing Date. What is a Class Action and is this email legit? Darryl H. continue reading

Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Devices

 Q. I bought a condominium built in 1985 in L.A. County and will be renting it. Do I need to have my contractors hard wire the smoke detectors, or can I use battery-operated smoke detectors? -Teresa  continue reading

Time Limits for Return of Security Deposit 

 Q- Hello! I actually have several questions: 1. I moved out of my old apartment complex over 6 months ago. I didn't get a chance to sue them for my deposit. Is there a time limit? 2. I'm on the SHRA voucher. They still denied they over charged me…. continue reading

Dangerous Buildings

Q. I live in the City of Sacramento and my neighbor's house was tagged as a Dangerous Building and all the doors and windows have been boarded. What is going to happen to this home? Bruce M.  continue reading

Are Tinted License Plate Covers Legal in California? 

 Q. Are tinted license plate covers legal in California? I have a friend who got a fix-it ticket for having one, but it is different from mine—his is sort of a bubble over the plate, which makes it harder to read, but mine is flat and lightly tinted. Should I be worried? Paul  continue reading

Attorneys' Fees

 Q: I need an attorney to see my mother's estate through probate, but I'm not sure if I can afford one. Is there an easy way to figure out the average cost of an attorney before meeting for a consultation with each potential candidate? I guess I'm wondering if they can give this information on their websites or over the phone. -Ben  continue reading

California Divorce Residency Requirements

 Q: My husband and I recently moved to Sacramento from Reno, and now that we live here, we want to get divorced. Do we need to file for divorce in Reno, where we got married, or can we file in California? Melissa  continue reading

Termination of Parental Rights

 Q: My ex has only seen our son a few times over the past six years, which is fine by me because he's a bad influence. He's also way behind on child support, which is fine. I don't need his money - I can support my son by myself. My ex says he wants to give up his parental rights, in exchange for me dropping support. Can we do this? I'd be more comfortable knowing my son won't be taken away if his father suddenly decides he wants custody in the future. continue reading
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Does "no pets" policy apply to service dog?

Q. As a landlord, I have a strict "no pets" policy. A prospective tenant says they have a certified service animal. All other qualifications being met, am I required to accommodate them? Thanks, Frank A continue reading

Statute of Limitations on Co-Signing of a Loan

Q: In 2000, I co-signed for a close friend to get a cell phone (I believe that I also paid three hundred dollar deposit). Apparently, in November 2011, his service was terminated (we are estranged, so this is the most information I could get from AT&T). When I called in March 2012, to add a new AT&T internet service, I was declined and informed of this issue... continue reading

Neighbor Troubles

Q: Hi, this is a multiple question question. I recently purchased a house on 2 acres in Citrus Heights, and the entire property needs to be re-fenced and the neighbors don't want to help pay for it. The fencing is at least 40 years old (one neighbor has confirmed this) and it is livestock fencing made of rotted out wood posts reinforced by some metal T posts with rusted wire and barbed wire fencing between the posts. There are 4 neighbors that surround the property, one neighbor (we'll call her neighbor A) has little dogs that come into my yard and continue to poop in several large poo piles at the edge of my property. I have not been able to catch them, but the poop is proof enough.... continue reading

Rate Increases at Self-Service Storage Facilities

Q. How much notice does a storage facility have to give before raising the fees? Is the time period covered by the law? I gave my facility plenty of notice, trying to be nice, and they replied with an increase in my last month's rent.   continue reading

Renters Insurance

Q- I recently moved into an affordable HUD senior building. The very last item presented to me, after I had paid my deposit, in this long 500-page+ process, was a requirement to "obtain $100,000 in rental insurance". My response was, "are you kidding me? The sum total of everything I've owned In My Life wouldn't add up to $100K If you had told me about this at first, I would have moved elsewhere!" I have 30 days to fulfill the requirements of this extortion, or I have to forfeit the apartment and start all over....  continue reading

Affirmative Defenses to Fraud

Q. What are some affirmative defenses to fraud? Ayana continue reading

Personal Service of Court Papers

Q. I want to sue my tenant for property damage in small claims court. He left no forwarding address, and has abandoned his tenancy. He has no job. He gets his money from alimony and child support. However, I know that he picks up his kids from the school. Can I use my adult son to personally hand deliver a summons to him when he is with his kids at school? What are the rules? -Myrna continue reading

  Court-Appointed Attorneys in Civil Cases

Q. I accidentally bumped into the back of a car at a stop sign--I barely even tapped the bumper, I took a picture and you can hardly even see the tiny dent--but now this jerk is suing me for "soft tissue neck trauma," aka whiplash. He is asking for $100,000 for pain and suffering!!! I was laid off about a year ago, before the accident, and still can't afford car insurance, much less an attorney, even if I could find one who would take my case—I looked and looked! What are people in my situation supposed to do? I did nothing wrong, I could lose everything, and no one will help me! Why won't the Court appoint a lawyer to defend me? Sandeep continue reading

Providing For Pets In The Event of Death or Incapacity

Q. I am trying to get my affairs in order and I am concerned about what will happen to my three dogs should I die or become incapacitated. Can I leave money in a will or trust for my dog's care? Suzy continue reading

How Registered Sex Offenders can Challenge "Jessica's Law" Residency Restrictions

Q. My brother is going to get out of jail soon, and we were planning on him moving in with me, but his parole officer told him he couldn't because he has to register as a sex offender and I live too close to an elementary school, which is against "Megan's Law" or "Jessica's Law" or something like that. Isn't there anything we can do? I'm afraid if he doesn't live with me he will be homeless. Jerri continue reading

Traffic Tickets for Out-of-State Residents

Q: I'm not a California resident, but while driving home to Oregon last week I received a speeding ticket in California, more than ten hours away from where I live. If I want to contest it, do I have to drive all the way back to the county where I received the ticket? continue reading

Credit Card Surcharges

Q: I stopped at a new convenience store near my house on my way home the other night, and when I went to pay for my purchases I noticed they had a note taped over the debit/credit card machine that said I would be charged an extra 75 cents if I paid with a debit or credit card, unless the total purchase was $10 or more. Well, I had no choice since it's the end of the month, so I used my credit card and paid the extra 75 cents, but I was steamed! Is this legal? -- Cody continue reading

When does a minor have to get parental consent for medical care?

Q. I'm currently working on a project for my ethics class. In this project I play the role of a risk manager who provides information to a 15 year old patient asking for medical emancipation. Do you know of any good resources where I can find more information on medical emancipation because I haven't been successful in my research? Thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it very much. Best Regards, Maria continue reading

Bicycles and Sidewalks

Q. I just moved to Sacramento and have noticed many people riding bicycles around town. Biking to work would be ideal, but I'm worried about dealing with traffic in certain areas and would be tempted to ride part of the way on sidewalks. I have a hunch this is illegal, yet I see cyclists doing this pretty often. Could I be ticketed for riding my bike on a sidewalk? – Dan continue reading

Divorce Nullifies Power of Attorney Between Spouses

Q: Hello I'm e-mailing with a question about the law of Power Of Attorney. My parents have been divorced now since "2006” in "2005" my Dad gave my Mom Power Of Attorney over his personal affairs. My parents have been separated since "1989" but have always maintained a good relationship. Lately my Dad has been showing sing of early Alzheimer’s and we have concerns because it seems that due to their divorce the Power Of Attorney is no longer valid! Is this a fact or is there something we can do to ensure that My Mom remains a vital part of My Dads affairs! I’m not sure and we need to know because there are properties involved and health care issues. continue reading

Past-Due Traffic Tickets

Q: I got a traffic ticket a while back, and missed my court date. I’d totally forgotten about it until I got something in the mail last week, saying I owed money on my outstanding ticket. It’s a huge amount now, with interest and late fees, etc. Can I ask for a payment plan or community service? I don’t have the money to pay the ticket right now. -Tanya continue reading

Dogs in Public Places

Q. I have been seeing an increasing number of people who take their dogs everywhere: cafes, restaurants, flights, bookstores, libraries. At first I thought only service dogs were allowed in these types of situations, but most of the dogs have nothing that identifies them as service animals, and some of them look too small to be of any help to the owners! Is this legal in California? continue reading

Patenting Recipes

Q: I recently opened a bakery where I use recipes that have been in my family for generations. I'm worried about my competitors getting a hold of these recipes, and using them in their own bakeries. Can I patent my recipes, to keep them from being used elsewhere? continue reading

Parole Records in California

Q. How would I find out the parole status of a person in Riverside County? They were recently put on parole after violating probation a number of times. -Barbara continue reading

Calculating Child Support

Q: My ex and I were divorced many years ago, when we were both working at different jobs than we have now. Teenage boys are very expensive, and more child support would really help! I don't know if it's worth the hassle of all the paperwork, though, if the support amount won't change much. Is there any way for me to estimate how much the new order would be? - Rachel... continue reading

Safe & Sane Fireworks on New Year's Eve?

Q: Hello, I found your website and I have a question about fireworks. I happen to have been born on New Year's Eve and always thought it would be fun (weather permitting) to have some of the Red Devil fountains to light . . . I guess they are called safe and sane now . . . in my day, that meant Red Devils! So, is it legal to set off California legal fireworks any time of year? If not, would I need a permit or something? Also, is it legal to purchase fireworks online, as long as they meet a safe and sane standard? Also, I would most likely be celebrating with friends in Citrus Heights . . . does that make a difference?... continue reading

Swimming Pool Safety Laws

Q: I recently purchased a home in a nice, family-oriented neighborhood. My neighbors to the left of me have a large swimming pool, which their young children and the children's friends frequently play in. I've noticed that the pool doesn't have any sort of barrier around it. Isn't there a law that states pools must have a surrounding fence to protect young children from an accidental drowning? If so, is it my duty to report them? -Rick continue reading

Fireworks Stands

Q: I was surprised recently to come home to a fireworks stand in a parking lot adjacent to my house. I feel that it is too close for safety. What are the laws in the city of Sacramento for fireworks stands? Thank you, Lori ... continue reading

Neglected Homes

Q: My neighbors moved out a couple of months ago because they were facing foreclosure. They left the house a mess! The yard is totally overgrown, there's a pile of junk in the driveway, and I'm afraid the pool is going to start growing mosquitoes now that the weather is warming up. Is there anything I can do? - Karina ... continue reading

Is demanding a receipt a violation of rights?

Q. I was wondering if it is legal in California for retailers like WalMart and Best Buy to ask customers for their receipts as they exit the store. As a paying customer, I resent being treated like a criminal. It is because of practices like this that I shop online whenever possible. I understand that membership stores like Costco and Sam's Club have user agreements that allow them to check receipts against items in your cart, but without such an agreement is WalMart violating my rights? Thank you for your time. Ally ... continue reading

Neighbors and Their Trampolines

Q. I share part of a fence with the neighbor behind me and they put a trampoline up against the fence so when their kids and friends jump they clear the top of the fence by a couple feet and look into my yard and home. Their yard is higher on the hill than mine which makes the trampoline sit even higher at the fence, and my yard is an odd wedge shape, narrowing on the side they have the trampoline so that the distance from my bedroom and living room window directly to where the trampoline sits is only about 10 yards. I've explained and asked them nicely once if they could scooch the trampoline over a bit..... continue reading

Power of Attorney

Q: My wife and I are temporarily moving to southern California to care for her ailing mother. My brother has agreed to take care of things for me while I'm away. I can handle a lot myself online, but just in case, I want him to be able to access my bank accounts, sign documents for me, and handle my personal business while I'm down south. Will a power of attorney do that? -Brian .... continue reading

Q. There is a boundary fence between me and my neighbor's side yard. It is leaning and I have propped it up for the last time. I have gotten two estimates from reputable fencing companies. My neighbor is refusing to pay half to replace it. I don't want to go to court. What else can I do? ...

There Oughta Be a Law

Q: I have a great idea for a new California law. Our kids get nothing but junk food at their school cafeteria for lunch. They should be learning about – and eating – fresh, healthy food. I want to get a law passed that requires every elementary, middle and high school with a school lunch program to also have a school garden to supply students with fresh fruit and vegetables. How do I get this law passed? Paula ... continue reading

Disqualification of Judges

Q. My wife and I are getting a divorce, and the judge is making all her rulings in my soon-to-be-ex's favor for no good reason that I can see, except that the judge doesn't like me—she seems to be biased against men. What can I do to get rid of this judge? Can I report her to the State Bar? .... continue reading
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Obtaining Evidence for a Contested Traffic Citation

Q. I've decided to contest a speeding ticket I received recently. How do I obtain all of the police records and evidence against me? ... continue reading

Proper Venue in Small Claims Court

Q: I want to sue a former neighbor in small claims court. She promised to pay half of the cost for a fence we built on the property line last year, but never did. She recently moved down to San Diego County. Do I have to go to San Diego to sue her, or can I do it in the Sacramento court? - Jessica ... continue reading

Collecting on a Small Claims Judgment

Q. I just won my small claims case against my landlord for wrongfully withholding my security deposit. Does the court collect for me? Jenny ... continue reading

The Perils of Co-Signing Loans

Q. I co-signed my sister's car loan. She made payments for the first two years, but now she is unemployed and I'm worried she might not be able to make the payments. What rights do I have? If I have to make the payments, do I at least get the car? Janice... continue reading

Quashing Improper Service of Court Documents

Q. I was handed a summons and complaint for breach of contract, but I didn't sign for it, so I don't think it is legal. I want to challenge this in court. How do I do that? Tom .... continue reading

Property Left Behind in a Rental Unit

Q: Up until two weeks ago, I was renting a room in a house. I had become friends with the owner and moved in last summer to help us both out with costs. It became very unpleasant to live with her, however, and in December I gave her our agreed-upon 30 days' notice that I would be moving out. She didn't take it well, but I managed to move most of my things out (on my own). Due to a family emergency that took me out of the state for a week, I had to leave a few things behind in the garage. When I got back to town and tried to get my stuff, the owner refused! Is she guilty of stealing my things since she won't let me pick them up? How can I get my stuff back? - Jessica ... continue reading

Expunging Criminal Records

Q: Several years ago, I was arrested for shoplifting. I haven't been in trouble since then. Having the conviction on my record is making it hard for me to find a job, though. My friend said I might be able to have the record sealed, since it was a long time ago. Is this possible? Judith .... continue reading

Consumer Pet Protection Act

Q. I purchased a pug at a pet store in the Bay Area ten days ago and now the dog is sick. I took Sparky to the veterinarian and she has hospitalized him. I think he will pull through. What are my options with the pet store?... continue reading

Finding a Will

Q: How can I get a copy of a will? I believe I was named in my mother's will but I can't find a copy. Mom passed away recently and my sister has been transferring Mom's property into her own name. Marge... continue reading

Children's wishes in custody disputes

Q: I'm going through a horrible, messy divorce, and I'm afraid my worst fear may come true—my 13-year-old daughter wants to live with her father instead of me because the cheating bum is cool and I'm just an over-anxious nag. Really he is just lazy so he lets her do whatever she wants and I'm the only one who ever enforces any discipline. A friend told me that there is a new law that says a 14-year-old can choose which parent gets custody. Is this true? ... continue reading

California Statutes of Limitations

Q: About six years ago, I lent a friend $600 to help with her tuition and living expenses while she was enrolled in college. We had an informal, but signed, contract that she would pay the money back within one year. She had to stay in school longer than expected because of tough circumstances, and we agreed that she could take longer to pay the money back (but not in writing). I then moved to another state, and have just recently moved back to California. Since I've been back, I've asked for the repayment several times, but I keep getting excuses. I'm thinking of taking this to court, but a friend says that too much time has passed and that the statute of limitations has run out... continue reading

Pet Licenses

Q: We're adopting a dog for our children for Christmas. A friend told me we'd need to get a pet license. Is this true? If so, who do we contact for that? Bridget .... continue reading

Amending a Birth Certificate

Q: I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in September. We named him James, but from day one we called him Kimo, which is James in Hawaiian. We regret not naming him Kimo and I would like to amend his birth certificate. Is that possible? Lelani ... continue reading

Air Rights

Hello- Recently I was watching the movie Burlesque starring Christina Aguilera and Cher and a legal issue was raised that piqued my curiosity. In the movie (spoiler alert!) Cher and Xtina are able to save the burlesque club from foreclosure by selling a nearby developer the air rights over the club so that the view for the developer's skyscraper will remain unimpeded. Is there such a thing as air rights for the space above a building and can one purchase them, or is this just an example of movie magic? Thanks, Becky .... continue reading

Avoid Probate with Small Estate Affidavit

Q: My mother just lost a long battle with breast cancer. My sister and I were both able to be with her until the very end, which was a good thing, but now my sister is saying we have to probate her estate. My mother didn't own a home or any real estate, only a few items of personal property: an old car, some costume jewelry, nothing anyone but me and my sister would want. All I know about probate is that people try to avoid it for some reason—can you tell me what it is and why I would want to avoid it? Vicky... continue reading

Small Claims Court and Security Deposits

Q: Until about a month ago, I was renting a room in a house from someone I thought was a reasonable lady. We had an argument, and she gave me 30 days notice to move out, saying that she would mail me my security deposit ten days after I had moved. The problem is, she kept $200 of my security deposit. Can I take her to small claims court for the money? -Randy .... continue reading

New Spouse's Income & Child Support

Q: My fiancé has a daughter from a previous marriage. When we get married, can her mother ask for more child support based on our new combined income? Barbara .... continue reading

Cell Phone Tickets

Q: I got pulled over for talking on my phone while driving, and the ticket is $162!!! I thought first-offense tickets were only supposed to be $20. Why is mine so high? Becky.... continue reading

Red Light Citation

Q: I received a citation in the mail for running a red light. My brother borrowed my truck and he was the driver pictured. What do I do? Bill ... continue reading

Lien Sale for Auto Repairs

Q: I own an auto shop and I finished about $5500.00 in repairs on a car and now the owner doesn't want to pay me. The car has been sitting in my shop for months now, how can I get rid of the car and get the money that is owed to me? Randy.... continue reading

California Smoke Detector Laws

Q: My husband and I will be retiring soon and we've decided to sell our house. We've heard that we may need to replace our smoke alarms before selling. Does California have a law about this? -Anne ... continue reading

Divorce Costs

Q: I've heard that getting a divorce is more expensive than getting married. Is that true? In total, how much does a divorce really cost? - Dave .... continue reading

Criminal Background Checks

Q: I met a guy who I really like, but a friend told me she heard he had a record. How can I do a background check to find out for sure? Jen.... continue reading

How to Find a Lawyer

Q: How can I find a good lawyer? I am willing to pay. Can you recommend someone? Thank you, Katherine .... continue reading