In mid June, I emailed two students, asking if they were interested in renting my house. They said yes, but didn't tell me if they would prefer to end the lease in Aug. or Sept. 2013. They did agree to the rent and some house rules. So I asked for their SS#, contact information, parents' information. I said I would start drafting the lease upon receiving the information. Then it occurred to me I should check their parents (co-signers) credits. I had to wait for 16 days for one of the reports. Meanwhile, I re-advertised the house and found a better fit. But one student's parents is threatening to sue me for breaching an oral agreement. So: 1) whether my email promise constitute an agreement (we didn't cover or agree on all terms, no deposit paid), 2) what could he demand if he won
Any agreement for the lease of real property for a term longer than a year must be in writing. If your term was to be more than a year, you do not have a valid contract.
I agree with Attorney Johnson who answered first. Any rental agreement should need to be in writing to be enforceable. That does not mean people do not sue in small claims court for up to $10,000. A small claims Judge (or Commissioner) would have to believe that you and the tenants had both entered into a agreement to all the same terms. By your question that seems unlikely, but it would depend upon the emails exchanged.
Small claims damages could include the "benefit of the bargain" (or what they would have to pay for another rental that was comparable to yours less the rent they would have paid to you. This would be very difficult to show that 1) there was an oral contract to rent for more than a year and 2) they were damaged by relying on that contract. The reason people pay deposits is to hold a property during the time before the lease is signed. This would be difficult for the students to collect upon in small claims court.
I agree with the prior postings. I will add that there are facts that would help support a easy defense. Making you wait 16 days to receive a co-signers application for credit can be interpreted to mean that they are no longer interested. Why should you as the landlord have to take a chance on a prospect and lose out on other potential tenants if they are not cooperating? Also, where is the essential element of consideration here? There is no deposit paid and therefore no commitment by the potential lessor. There are material terms instrumental in a lease that have not been discussed such as duration of lease. In my opinion you can't be held to any agreement unless the deposit has been paid (consideration), duration has been set and a lease has been signed by both parties.
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