Is a Text Message Legally Binding With a Landlord?
The short answer is, it depends. There are times that texting can be legally binding, and times that it cannot.
Is There Already a Lease Agreement in Place?
One of the basic laws of contracts is that both sides have to follow a valid contract that has already been entered into. If a lease agreement states that certain things needs to be in writing, such as notice for landlord to enter or changes in rental fees, then this sort of communication must be done in writing. Real writing. Not text. If, however, there are terms in the original lease agreement that allow for texting to be considered as legal written notice, then texting is indeed legally binding. Parties are free to define the terms of their "writing" requirement. But absent a contract term to the contrary, a text standing alone is not always considered legally binding.
What Is OK to Text About With Your Landlord?
If you would like to accept legally binding texting between landlord and tenant, it is best to establish the protocol upfront, and in writing. At the very least, confirm that both landlord and tenant are interested in using texts to communicate, and be consistent about using texts for the agreed upon uses. Potentially acceptable legally binding texts might be:
- Requesting repairs by the tenant
- Requesting permission to enter by landlord or contractor
- Warning that someone suspicious is in the area
- Announcing emergency repairs
- Confirming or reminding about repairs or maintenance that have already been announced via written notification
What If the Text Message Is to Start a Tenancy?
If the text is the beginning of the tenancy, meaning an offer with specific terms, and acceptance, can a texted acceptance be legally binding on the landlord? Well, it depends. Some leases can be oral, and texts would probably suffice for oral communication. But there are statutory requirements regarding what needs to be in writing, and also the form and delivery of the writing. To date, few jurisdictions consider texting to be legal written notice, and none consider them to be legal documents. Meaning, it may occasionally be legally binding when a text accepts a formal written document. But the text itself cannot be the formal written document.
Confusing? Absolutely! And That's The Problem
If this sounds confusing, you're correct! Texting is a new form of communication, relatively speaking, with some demographics finding it more useful and acceptable than others. If you use text to legally bind, you are taking your chances. And odds are, to enforce your text, you will have to go to court. If you believe, down the road, you will need a paper trail to prove communications, use traditional written forms, and not texts.
Texts are not legal documents, and are sometimes not admissible in court as evidence of communication. If you want to confirm that there has been a meeting of the minds between landlord and tenant, which is what will ultimately need to be proven in court to bind both parties, send the final document in writing.
However, if "the damage has been done", and you need to prove that a text exchange you have is a legally binding agreement, contact a local landlord tenant attorney. These cases are very fact specific, and an attorney can help you figure out your best legal recourse.
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