Self-Help

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Self-Help

Redressing or preventing wrongs by one's own action Without Recourse to legal proceedings.

Self-help is a term in the law that describes corrective or preventive measures taken by a private citizen. Common examples of self-help include action taken by landlords against tenants, such as eviction and removal of property from the premises, and repossession of leased or mortgaged goods, such as automobiles, watercraft, and expensive equipment. Persons may use self-help remedies only where they are permitted by law. State and local laws permit self-help in commercial transactions, tort and Nuisance situations, and Landlord and Tenant relationships.

Self-help is permissible where it is allowed by law and can be accomplished without committing a breach of the peace. A breach of the peace refers to violence or threats of violence. For example, if a person buys a ship financed by a mortgage, the mortgage company may repossess the ship if the buyer fails to make the mortgage payments. If the buyer is present when the ship is being taken away and the buyer objects to the repossession, the mortgage company breaches the peace if it can repossess the ship only through violence or the threat of violence. In such a case, the mortgage company would be forced to file suit in court to repossess the ship. Repossessors attempt to circumvent objections by distracting or deceiving the defaulting party during the repossession.

A majority of states have banned self-help by landlords in the eviction of delinquent tenants. These legislatures have determined that the interests of the landlord in operating a profitable business must be balanced against a tenant's need for shelter. In place of the self-help remedy, states have devised expedited judicial proceedings for evictions. These proceedings make it possible for a landlord to evict a tenant without unacceptable delays while giving the tenant an opportunity to present to a court arguments against eviction.

In states that give landlords the right of self-help, landlords may evict a tenant on their own only if they can do so in a peaceful manner. The precise definition of peaceful varies from state to state. In some states any entry by a landlord that does not involve violence or a breach of the peace is acceptable. In other states any entry that is conducted without the tenant's consent is illegal.

In any case, if a landlord evicts a tenant through self-help, the eviction must be performed reasonably. For example, a landlord may not nail plywood across the entrance to a tenant's second-story apartment while the tenant is inside and then remove the steps leading up to the apartment. One landlord who performed such self-help faced criminal penalties after the trapped tenant and her two-year-old daughter needed the help of the local fire department to escape the apartment. A landlord who violates laws on self-help may face criminal charges and a civil suit for damages filed by the tenant.

One new form of self-help that poses interesting problems is self-help by providers of computer software. Businesses in the United States that use computers have become dependent on computer software. Sometimes when disputes have arisen between the buyer of software and the software provider, software providers have disabled the buyer's software from a remote location. In one case a software supplier called Logisticon entered into a contract with Revlon Group to provide it with computer software. After a dispute arose between the two parties, Logisticon accessed Revlon's software system and disabled it, causing Revlon to suffer $20 million in product delivery delays. Revlon brought suit against Logisticon, alleging that Logisticon had violated the contract and that it had misappropriated Revlon's trade secrets. The two parties settled the suit out of court, and the terms of the settlement remain undisclosed.

Self-help measures are controversial because they amount to taking the law into one's own hands. Opponents of self-help laws argue that they encourage unethical and sometimes illegal practices by creditors and that they diminish public respect for the law. Proponents counter that self-help, if performed peaceably, is a valuable feature of the justice system because it gives creditors an opportunity to alleviate losses and keeps small, simple disputes from glutting the court system.

Further readings

Bell, Tom W. 2003. "Free Speech, Strict Scrutiny, and Self-Help: How Technology Upgrades Constitutional Jurisprudence." Minnesota Law Review 87 (February).

Fischer, Julee C. 2000. "Policing the Self-Help Legal Market: Consumer Protection or Protection of the Legal Cartel?" Indiana Law Review 34 (winter).

Gerchick, Randy G. 1994. "No Easy Way Out: Making the Summary Eviction Process a Fairer and More Efficient Alternative to Landlord Self-Help." UCLA Law Review 41 (February).

Gitter, Henry. 1993. "Self-Help Remedies for Software Vendors." Santa Clara Computer and High Technology Law Journal 9 (November).

Cross-references

Secured Transactions.

self-help

n. 1) obtaining relief or enforcing one's rights without resorting to legal action, such as repossessing a car when payments have not been made, retrieving borrowed or stolen goods, demanding and receiving payment, or abating a nuisance (such as digging a ditch to divert flooding from another's property). Self-help is legal as long as it does not "break the public peace" or violate some other law (although brief trespass is common). 2) the maximizing of one's opportunities.

References in periodicals archive ?
Sonia Royer- Alzheimer's self help group first Wednesday of the month at 10am at the Latin Parish hall in Paphos.
Purushotham (2004) in his study found that most of the self help group members are living in high poverty, low levels of agricultural surpluses, scanty resources and under developed infrastructure.
We have a range of products and whatever we earn from it we use it for the education of our children, on family and for individual expenditure," said Kh Lewis, secretary, Punshi Mangal Self Help Group.
Housewives and several self help groups from across the state took part in the festival by cooking a variety of 'pithas' and 'pulis' (Bengali rice cakes).
Many self help groups and cooperative societies have now taken up tea cultivation.
Neinu, a member of Mevi Krotho Self Help Group in Seithekema Village, says: Some of us rear pigs, hens etc.
Members of the self help group are now running their own business in the form of handloom, weaving, small food processing unit, bee keeping, cane and bamboo craft.
Hosur, March 23 (ANI): A self help group in Tamil Nadu has been training rural women in sari designing to make them self reliant.
Summary: A self help group trains rural women in herbal farming and medicines in Uttarakhand state to make them self reliant.
The growth of self help groups like this one has come as a boon for the local unemployed women who are now able to earn a living and support their families.
He then analyzes the findings of field research consisting of interviews with 80 self help groups as to what their members saw as empowering before attempting to identify the factors that lead to strong empowerment outcomes, particularly as related to the question of NGO accountability to recipient groups.
Although there were a number of reasons why the participants in the survey did not seek help for their disorder or dependency from either professionals or self help groups, the three most frequently reported reasons were: