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To find the name of an attorney, contact either your local tenant association or local bar association. These numbers should be listed in your telephone directory. You may also call the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 1-800-252-9690. If you have a very low income, you may be eligible to receive free legal assis- tance from a legal services office, and, if you decide to file a suit, you may also be able to file a statement describing your financial status instead of having to pay court costs. If you need the name and tele- phone number of the legal services office in your area, you can call Texas Lawyers Care at 1-800-204-2222, ext. 2155. A Referral Directory of legal service providers is on the State Bar website, www.texasbar.com. You may also decide to represent yourself in Justice of the Peace Court. Justices of the Peace routinely decide suits filed by parties who do not have lawyers. It is still a good idea to get some tips from an attorney or your local tenant association on the best way to represent yourself.

SELECTING YOUR NEW HOME

The most important thing you can do to avoid hassles with your house or apartment is to get started on the right foot. Many problems can be avoided if you do a few things before you agree to rent, put down a deposit, or sign a lease.

Look over the outside of the building. Are the stairs, outside walls, roo , sidewalks, and grounds around it in good shape? Do the buildings need to be painted? Do the apartments have enough parking spaces? If there is a laundry room for all of the residents, look it over. Inspect the swimming pool. Find out what the neighbors are like and what they say about the landlord. Ask whether they ever had something that needed to be repaired by the landlord. Was it fixed quickly? Have they ever had any disputes with the landlord? Do they have roaches? Has anyone in the area had any problem with vandalism, burglaries, rapes, muggings, or other crimes? What is the area like at night? Are the grounds well lit?

NEVER sign a lease or even put a deposit down on an apartment or house until you have seen the exact place you will be renting. Some apartment complexes will show you a model apartment. Often, the apartment you actually get will not be as nice as the model. When you inspect the place you may rent, look it over carefully. Make sure the place does not smell bad. This could signal mildew caused by roof or plumbing leaks. Make sure the stove works. Check the refrigerator. Turn on the dishwasher. Check the garbage disposal. Turn on the water faucets and make sure the hot water works. Flush the toilet. Test the heating and air conditioning units. Open all of the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and bathroom. Look for signs of insects or rodents. Look carefully at the carpet. Check around the windows. Are there any signs of leaks or water damage? Does the house or apartment have working smoke detectors? Test all of the lights.

Carry a pen and paper with you. Make a list of anything that is dam- aged or that needs repair. Take a copy of your list to the landlord and

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