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Now That You’re 18

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the September 9, 2008 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

Within the last few weeks new students, most of which who have just recently turned 18, have been streaming into local colleges and universities.

Becoming a legal adult brings both great opportunities as well as responsibilities. New situations and transactions contain their own set of pitfalls which may cause problems as well.

Below are the most likely problem areas and some helpful tips to get through this time of change.

Apartments

Should a student opt to not take advantage of university housing, many will be getting their own apartment or finding roommates to share the rent.

Once you select the apartment, the landlord/rental company will expect you to sign a lease. This lease is a legally binding contract which gives you certain rights as well as obligations. Make sure you read and understand the lease. It should contain a detailed description of who is responsible for maintenance of the property, the consequences for failure to pay rent, etc.

Make sure you note and document (take pictures) when you move in and when you move out as well.

Parents also keep in mind that if you are co-signing the lease with your child, you may also be sued in the event the lease is broken or the premises are damaged.

Contracts

Once you are a legal adult, you are able to enter into contracts and be held legally responsible for them. This applies not only to rental leases, but to other contracts as well such as cell phone contracts, car rentals, and credit agreements. Many times with young people who do not have well established credit, contracts may include additional fees or extremely high interest rates. As with anything else, make sure you read the contracts carefully and understand what you’re signing. When in doubt have someone else look over the contract to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Cars

This is probably the first large purchase a young adult will make on his/her own. Many times due to limited funds, young people will opt to purchase a used car. While there are some great deals out there, it’s buyer beware with some other deals.

Always be careful with “As-Is” purchases. “As-Is” means “with all faults.” This means that the buyer has absolutely no recourse should something go wrong.

Be wary of extended warranties and service policies as well. Read the fine print to make sure that the warranty covers as many components as possible and that the deductible on the service policy isn’t so high as to make the warranty pointless.

Work with a reputable dealer and have a mechanic look over the car to make sure there aren’t any underlying problems you may have missed.

Voting

One of the privileges of being an adult is having the right to vote. As long as you will be 18 on Election Day, you should register to vote.

Drinking & Driving

While you are a legal adult, you are still not able to drink legally. Not only will you be charged as an adult, you will face adult penalties as well.

With the new DUI laws in Pennsylvania, if you are found to have ANY measurable amount of alcohol (.02 BAC) in your system you will be charged with an underage DUI and you will lose your license for at least 90 days.

Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is rampant in colleges and universities.

Federal law prohibits sexual harassment of college and university students whether the harasser is an employee or another student.

A college must create a sexual harassment policy that explains how a student can file a complaint and what will happen after he/she makes that complaint, commonly referred to as grievance procedures. The grievance procedures must provide for “prompt and equitable resolution of complaints” which means that the procedures must be set up so that the college handles complaints in a prompt, fair, and impartial manner. Each college must designate a coordinator for sexual harassment complaints who has training on sexual harassment matters. The policy and coordinator’s contact information must be advertised to students. Usually these are found in the student handbook.

Keep in mind that while you are protected from sexual harassment, once you are a legal adult you may also be charged with sexual harassment and criminally charged if applicable. Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behavior. It may take different forms, including: physical contact, like grabbing, pinching, touching or kissing against a person's will; sexual comments, like name-calling, starting rumors, making sexual jokes at a person's expense, or making sexual gestures at or about a person; sexual propositions; and unwanted communication, like phone calls, letters, or e-mails. Unwanted communications can be mean, nasty, or threatening, or they can seem flattering or nice but still make a person uncomfortable. The harasser and the victim can be either male or female, and they do not have to be the opposite sex.

Be aware that your conduct may be offensive and choose your words and actions carefully.

Credit Cards

Many young adults get their first credit card when they start college. As with any other contract, if you have a limited credit history you may face higher interest rates, lower credit limits, and additional fees. Pay attention to the small print! If you are not used to making monthly payments and miss one, you will likely face an increase in your interest rate and late fees and penalties. Adhere to your credit limit and don’t charge up to that limit. Just because someone says you can charge $5000 doesn’t mean you should.

Internet Posting

We’ve all heard the stories about how posting online can come back to haunt you. Pictures in particular can show up when you least expect them. If you are downloading, make sure you are doing it from a reputable site and pay attention to the warnings your computer software gives you. If it doesn’t seem quite right—it probably isn’t.

For any questions contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555, and for a free copy of the “18—The Laws Facing New Adults” brochure, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association at 412-261-6161.