Old friend trying to ‘chop’ us

Dear Mrs Macaulay,

In early 2017, my spouse and I were approached by a friend of a friend to allow him to live in a spare room that we had as he was down on his luck. He promised to keep the yard clean in exchange.

The arrangement was not working and it eventually reached to where he had his child and child’s mother living in the room with him. In June 2018, we gave him 180 days’ notice (we were being mindful of the fact that he seemingly had no one else), advising that the area was needed for personal occupation by the owner. He delayed for a few months and eventually we did not see him from about March 2019. He kept the keys and left his belongings in the room.

We reached out to him numerous times over the period of two years until he stopped answering us and his phone eventually stopped ringing. In early 2021 we opened the room and gave away his belongings. He is now suing us for over $400,000 for the items that were in the room. He has provided a proforma invoice that includes current cost for items as support for the over 400k. He has included items that were not in the room such as a fridge and smart TV. His claim specifically named my spouse; however, my spouse is about to migrate so I wanted to know what our options are.

Your actions were very kind and commendable, but what is not commendable is that you did not seek any legal advice before you permitted this man to move in. You therefore did not take any of the precautionary steps you should have before letting anyone whatsoever, even a relative, move into your home or any other property of yours. The fee you would have paid a lawyer to advise you would, I assure you, have been well worth the cost and you would not have suffered the indignities this man discourteously and ungratefully imposed upon you and your spouse as he now seeks to profit from you by making the claim he has contrived.

You would have been advised that you should have a properly executed agreement between you both and he, before you let him into your home. Such an agreement would have included the facts of his being allowed to occupy a room in your home in exchange for his keeping the yard clean (this being the consideration for his occupancy in law, would have made him a tenant). The agreement would also have included that he would be given notice of 30 days to quit in the event that the arrangement became in any way untenable, or discomfort was caused to you and your spouse as a result of his conduct, or if he failed in any other obligations.

You tried as best you could without putting in place the legal protection you and your spouse needed when engaging in such an act as you did. You got a ‘promise’ from him that he would keep your yard clean in exchange for his occupation of the room. This was his small consideration for the said occupation. You have not stated whether he did keep the yard clean for any period of time, and consistently.

He compounded the non-working situation by bringing in his babymother and their child into the room, clearly without your consent. Even in this you were being kind, bearing in mind his difficulties, though he afforded you and your spouse not even an iota of consideration.

Again, without legal advice, you “reached out to him numerous times”. You have not stated what this included, and whether you stated that it was clear that he had abandoned the contents of the room he had occupied and that if he did not come and clear out and clean the room within 30 days, you would clear them out and dispose of them. This you would have been legally advised that you could do, and exactly what you ought to have said to him, but in writing. You would also have been advised that you ought to have a third party present when the room was being cleared to assist you in making a list of the contents (also to take photographs of them in situ) and be a witness to their disposal. The list and details of the disposal should have been signed by you, your spouse and the third party, and these signings should have been witnessed by a justice of the peace, if possible, and if not, by a lawyer or an independent person.

Anyway, you disposed of his stuff by giving them away and now he is claiming damages. Has he filed the claim in a court of law, or has he just written to your spouse? If he has filed it in court, your spouse needs to retain a lawyer to defend and contest the claim on his behalf. Such a case will turn on law and facts and be concluded on who is believed by the judge. I am of the view that once such a case is properly handled, your spouse (and you, who would also give evidence), ought to succeed.

My immediate conclusion is that you absolutely need to consult a lawyer immediately to assist you to meet what is clear to me is an unsupportable claim. Firstly, an invoice showing the current costs of items which he is claiming he had in 2017 and left in your room in March 2019 is unacceptable in law to support his claim for old items, assuming that it is found that he did have them there. There is also the fact and issue that he abandoned his stuff in your premises, which would be a trespass by him, and whether you both ought not to claim against him for rental on a quantum meruit basis for the period of time when he just disappeared. This is what reasonable sum you could have earned had you rented the room out.

Even if he has only written to your spouse claiming the money, a lawyer must be retained. If you do not, you would be assisting this man to wrongly enrich himself at the expense of you and your spouse. I think that you both have given more than enough to this man and you must now defend yourself against his nefarious plan. It is up to you and your spouse to act. You suffered before by not seeking legal advice before letting him into your home, please do not compound this by not obtaining legal assistance now. Be responsible and have a sense of self-preservation this time. It is up to you to act in the right way to protect yourselves and your assets and not to assist anyone to hold you to ransom and pay it.

Be sensible and get a lawyer please, so that he/she can represent you and your spouse. If your spouse migrates before the case comes up for hearing and he cannot come back in person to appear for any trial date, your lawyer can apply for his appearance, cross-examination and giving evidence (on his claim against the man) by way of videoconferencing.

Please do the sensible thing as I have suggested.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women’s and children’s rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.

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