It’s true: even trespassing burglars have rights

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is it true that a burglar who breaks into a home can sue the homeowner if he gets hurt while robbing the place?

ANSWER: A burglar can sue a homeowner after getting injured during the commission of a crime, but such lawsuits are rarely successful. That’s because the law generally exempts homeowners from the responsibility of protecting trespassers from dangers that may lurk inside their house or in their yard.

There are some exceptions. For example, if you notice someone who frequently trespasses on your property, you are legally obligated to warn the unwanted visitor about any dangers or hazards. You can also be sued for “willful and wanton conduct” that injures a trespasser, such as building a homemade booby trap designed to hurt or kill a thief.

Some states allow homeowners to use deadly force if they believe that their life is in imminent danger. However, no state allows an owner to kill a trespasser in an effort to protect their personal property, such as jewelry or a television.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: The median size of a newly built house last year was 2,467 square feet, the Census Bureau reports. That’s up 11 percent from a decade ago and a whopping 61 percent from the 1970s.

DEAR MR. MYERS: What are the best household items to buy in June?

ANSWER: June not only brings us the start of summer, but also kicks off the peak wedding season. So, whether you’re helping to fill a bridal registry or simply want to replace some old kitchenware, you’ll find discounts of 25 percent or more on everything from pots and pans to glassware and full table settings.

You’ll net double-digit discounts on common tools you might need for your toolbox. But delay buying a new barbeque: The best deals will be offered in August or September, as summer winds to a close and retailers slash prices by as much as 50 percent.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I live in an apartment, and my brother wants to move in with me. My landlord says that’s OK, but insists that we tear up the current lease and sign a new one that would list my brother as a co-tenant. I would rather just leave the current lease alone and have my brother pay his share of the rent directly to me, which I would then forward to the landlord. Why is my landlord refusing to budge on this issue?

ANSWER: Because your landlord, understandably, wants to protect both his investment and his legal rights.

If the landlord merely lets your brother move in without signing a new lease, it would create a “sub-tenancy” relationship. A co-tenancy relationship, on the other hand, gives the landlord more legal power. That’s because, as a co-tenant, the landlord could force one of you to pay the entire monthly rent if the other was unable to pay his own share.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We are hoping to purchase a retirement home in a rural area where all the houses have septic systems rather than traditional plumbing. How do they work? Also, is a septic system covered in a home-inspection report?

ANSWER: A surprising one-third of all homes today have a septic system rather than conventional plumbing, up from about one-fourth of homes a few decades ago. That’s because the shortage of vacant parcels in urban areas has forced many developers to build in more remote regions where sewers haven’t been installed.

A typical septic system has two main components: a large tank and a drain field. The tank holds household wastewater, and chemicals are added to separate the goo into solids and liquids. A waste-management company comes out at regular intervals to clean the solids out.

Most of the tank’s water flows into the drain field, trickles through a network of gravel-filled trenches, and eventually seeps into the soil. The trenches and soil act as a filter, removing harmful bacteria and other pollutants so they don’t contaminate nearby wells or the groundwater far below.

Most inspectors don’t include an evaluation of a property’s septic system in their home-inspection reports. Expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for the services of a septic specialist: If you move in without such an inspection, you could easily pay $5,000 or even more than $10,000 to replace the system if problems develop later.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.