Is this actually a lease?
June 26, 2014 9:27 PM   Subscribe

We signed a lease for a place and it's been a debacle and we haven't moved in yet. Is our lease legally binding if it wasn't countersigned and the owner hadn't closed on the place when we signed it?

We're in the Oakland and our current landlord sold the condo we are currently living in. We signed a lease for a new place, not realizing that the person we were leasing from hadn't actually closed on the apartment yet. It's been a disaster since then, with nastiness between our new landlord and the HOA for the new place, and I have serious concerns that the place will actually be ready. This has made me feel really uncomfortable about the whole process. My question is, is my lease binding if it was between me and the owner, he hasn't signed it, and he wasn't the owner at the time of the lease?
posted by Nimmie Amee to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Are you moving in? Do you already live there?

Has money changed hands between you or either party?

What is your goal?

These are the initial questions a good lawyer will ask you.

Get one.
posted by jbenben at 9:42 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you told the landlord that you want to back out?

As a landlord, I can tell you that the vast majority of landlords will let you go. Some might make you pay a breaking the lease fee (a fee smaller than the cost of hiring a lawyer).

Very few landlords are going to take the time to sue you for the value of the lease contract, especially if the rented property is not ready or has other problems.

Send the landlord a written note stating all your concerns, so that you have a record. Then call them, and negotiate an exit from the lease.

With 95% of landlords, you do not need a lawyer to negotiate an exit to the lease.
posted by Flood at 5:03 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, email the landlord and ask if he will let you out of your agreement, what with all the hoo-ha going on. If he agrees, ask him to send you confirmation in writing and in email.

If he doesn't, insist that he counter-sign the lease and send it back to you so that you have a copy. This will be germaine later if you have to go to court. Insist that he put the date of occupancy in it, and proof that he has HOA approval to rent the property (an estopple letter from the HOA confirming such).

If you can, ask the current owner of the condo to send you a short letter outlining the issues at hand and confirming that transfer of the property has NOT taken place to date, this will establish that your landlord has no legal standing to contract with you and this should nullify the contract.

If that works, awesome!

Secondly, if that doesn't work, get with City of Oakland Housing and Community Development, so you can understand your rights and obligations.

Basically though, if he doesn't have approval from the HOA, he doesn't have a condo to rent you.

IANYL/IANAL, what I know comes from being President of the HOA for 7 years, and from watching court shows.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:36 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Contractually, a document doesn't have to be countersigned provided both parties agreed to the terms and had no changes. If it's his lease that he presented, and you did not make any changes, it technically doesn't need to be signed by the landlord.

Now, having said that, if there are clauses in the lease that weren't accurate at the time of signing, it can be voided, as the landlord did not present a valid contract.

But I highly doubt it will get to the stage where the validity needs to be argued. Just walk, no one is going to take you to court over a months rent, but if you paid a security deposit you can more or less write it off.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:57 AM on June 27, 2014

Thanks so much for the responses. We're planning to just let him know we want out and are prepared to lose our deposit.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 8:05 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't volunteer the deposit. Ask for it back. Hey! He's not prepared at this time to honor the lease.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

YES. Do not offer the deposit!!

Taking the time to write and send those letters will get you your deposit back. Hopefully.

I think you should spring $200 for a lawyer (do you know any?) to write the final demand letter for the deposit, but that's cause to me it sounds like whoever you are dealing with is shady and might need an extra push.
posted by jbenben at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a landlord.

You're way too worried about being held accountable for the full lease terms (keep in mind that going to court costs *him* time and money just to show up). Simple fact is there is not an apartment that is ready and you need housing. Insist on him paying you back and dealing with his schedule problems on his own dime -- this is completely unfair to you. Make sure that you document the fact that the apartment is unavailable and/or uninhabitable, and let him know -- politely but firmly -- that you understand your rights and will fight him if he's a jerk about this. But try the soft approach first ("Gosh, we're sorry, but we need to know we have a place to live .... Do you think you could ...."). Then escalate if need be.
posted by dhartung at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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