Aug. 26, 2014 – As incoming freshmen all over the state are getting ready to leave home for the first time and start classes, the State Bar of Wisconsin is issuing the following helpful reminders to new adults.
What are some of the rights you have after age 18 (as a U.S. Citizen) that you didn’t have before?
- Vote in state and local elections
- Participate in jury service
Most people* age 18 or older, regardless of citizenship, can generally do the following:
- Marry without parental or legal guardian consent
- Make a valid will
- Work for pay
- Obtain a driver’s license (must be a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or conditional resident)
- Apply for credit in your own name
- Sue in your own name
- Make a contract (i.e., rent an apartment, buy a car, take out a loan) in your own name
What are some of the responsibilities people have after age 18 that they didn’t have before?
- You may be sued by others for property damage or bodily injury that you cause (for example, in a car accident that was your fault)
- All males are required to register for a military draft
- Criminal charges will be tried in adult criminal court rather than juvenile court. This begins at age 17. In some circumstances, a person as young as 14 can be “waived” into adult court and treated as an adult for criminal law purposes
- Supporting yourself financially, as parents/legal guardians are no longer required to do so
- You may be sued by others on contracts you make
Over the coming weeks, college students are likely to find themselves in situations where they will need to sign contracts, such as rental agreements, for the first time.
Attorneys advise young adults to remember some general rules to follow when asked to sign a contract:
- Don’t sign anything until you are sure you understand the agreement
- Read the entire contract before signing it
- Ask questions about anything in the contract you don’t understand
- Cross out parts of the contract that conflict with your agreement
- Write in parts of your agreement that are not in the contract
- Don’t sign a contract if it contains any blank spaces--either fill them in or cross them out if they do not apply
- Be concerned if someone asks you to sign a contract without reading it
- Don’t be intimidated
- Don’t be taken in by friendly folks
- Don’t think that a printed form contract must be okay
- Never sign anything unless you understand why you are being asked to sign and what you are agreeing to do
- Be sure that you get a complete, accurate, signed copy of the contract
Lawyers also have specific reminders for 18-year-olds who are signing their first lease:
A landlord/property owner has the right to:
- set the amount of rent
- set rules for occupancy, except that a landlord in Wisconsin cannot discriminate based on a tenant’s sex, race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, family status, lawful source of income, age, or ancestry
- collect for damages to the property and sell the rental unit (if there is a written lease, it continues to its expiration date)
A tenant has the right to:
- use the rental unit in accordance with the rules
- occupy the rental unit without unjust interference or discrimination by the landlord
- expect the property to be safe and kept in reasonably good repair
A tenant should also do the following before renting a property:
- See the specific unit he/she intends to rent – not a “model” unit
- Note its condition, report any need for painting/cleaning/repairs
- Read the lease and any related notices or disclosures
- For a complete list of necessary disclosures, visit www.tenantresourcecenter.org
Andrea Gage is public relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
For more helpful advice for 18-year-olds, please visit WisBar.org and download our guide, What You Should Know about Wisconsin Law: Your Legal Rights & Responsibilities.
* People under legal adult guardianship due to disability will need to check with their guardian, attorney, and/or the Court about their rights.