I wrote a security deposit and prorated first month's rent check and sent to a landlord, but did not sign a lease. 3 days later I sent the property manager an email and told them I would like the property and that I would sign the lease. One day later I called the PM and told her that I no longer wanted the property/would not sign the lease.
They are now saying that I am bound to an oral month to month agreement contract and the deposit/prorated rent are liquidated damages and kept by the Owner/Landlord.
Do my email or verbal agreement bind me to month to month terms? Am I legally bound to pay the property management company?
With certain exceptions, a month to month agreement is just as valid as a written agreement; however the terms are more difficult to prove. From the facts you have described, your e-mail exchanges may be the extra evidence a landlord would need to show what the terms of your agreement are. However, those same e-mails may instead show that the two of you intended to enter an agreement, but never did.
Two exceptions to the general rule about oral agreements stand out in your question. First, you write that you paid a security deposit. It is illegal for a landlord to take a security deposit unless the deposit agreement is in writing and describes the conditions under which the deposit will be retained or returned. RCW 59.18.260. Additionally, you must be provided with a written checklist to describe the condition of the premises, as well as several other requirements. See RCW 59.18.260-280. Your question suggests that none of these requirements were met, and the landlord must return your security deposit. Sometimes, landlord's take a fee when you apply for an apartment to guarantee you will rent it if you are accepted. If the 'deposit' was this type of payment, different rules apply. RCW 59.18.253.
Second, you said that the landlord is keeping your deposit and rent as 'liquidated damages.' This type of charge must be agreed to by the parties; if you did not agree to it, they cannot claim liquidated damages. It would be extremely difficult to show such an agreement without a written contract.
The short answer to your question is yes, you can enter an oral month to month agreement. However, the facts you have described suggest that no, you are probably not required to pay these amounts. To get a more definite answer to the second question, you should consider having a lawyer review any written communications.
I agree with Mr. Cutting and would add do not stop payment on the checks. Property Managers will tell you that you owe them money for everything. You may settle this matter , if you do get a signed copy of the settlement agreement beause managment firms take most outstanding accounts to a collection agency and if that happens you will need to prove you settle this matter.
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