By Cynthia Flash
Real estate and text messaging. Is there really a connection between these two seemingly unrelated things?
Interestingly, the answer is yes. As texting becomes more ubiquitous it is also entering the realm of real estate law, raising questions about whether texting information between landlord and tenant is legally binding. In many cases, it is!
You may wonder why this is even an issue. Can’t you just pick up the phone, knock on the door or write a letter or email? More and more, people are giving up their landlines and using only their mobile phones. And some people — depending on their age mainly — are more comfortable communicating with their thumbs than with their mouths. As our forms of communicating change we need to change with them. Texting about real estate issues — specifically landlord-tenant issues — is no different.
Of course, laws vary from state to state and city to city on this topic. But here are some examples from around the country to give a sense of which way the law is headed:
Q: If a landlord notifies a tenant via text message about changes in the terms of a lease, is that proper legal notice?
A: “A text or email can be a contract if there is an offer and an acceptance by both parties,” Centennial, CO, lawyer Christopher Leroi wrote in the Q&A forum on Avvo.com in response to the question. However, he added that he wouldn’t advise a landlord to serve notice of a rent increase via text. Instead, he would suggest that it is put in writing and mailed or handed to the tenant.
Adds San Francisco attorney Shaye Larkin, “An increase in rent should be in writing, but mere discussions can be via text message.”
Q: If a landlord offers a benefit — such as snow removal or cleaning — by text, is it legally binding?
A: Probably not, says attorney Peter Kirner of Cleveland. “Generally a lease will be looked at between the four corners of the document, meaning what is specifically ON your lease. If snow removal — or any other service — is not in there, then it is not a duty.”
Q: Does notifying tenants by text message that they must vacate qualify the same as notifying them via paper notice?
A: In New York City the answer is no, says New York landlord/tenant attorney Steven Smollens. “The controlling New York statute does not allow for a text message. It requires a written notice as well as ‘service’ in the same manner as an actual landlord and tenant lawsuit. This statute is only for New York City and is directed at how a New York City landlord may terminate a month-to-month tenancy.”
Smollens adds that a second law applies to all of New York state except for New York City. “That law allows the landlord as well as the tenant to give notice to the other terminating the month-to-month tenancy. It, however, is not explicit about requiring a written notice or manner of service. It requires a one-month advance notice, where the New York City law requires a 30-day notice.”
Q: What if tenants notify a landlord via text that they plan to move out. Is that considered “written notice?”
A: Yes, Saint Louis attorney Leonard Komen wrote on Avvo.com in response to the question. “Electronic communications in most commercial situations are now considered the equivalent of written communications. You will be hard-pressed to argue you did not get written notice.”
If you prefer texting over calling or writing, tread carefully when it comes to tenant-landlord issues to make sure you are on strong legal ground.
This post is authored by Cynthia Flash, who owns Flash Media Services, specializing in writing, editing and public relations.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.