Oral Modifications to Written Lease/Rental Agreements: Are They Valid? Vol. 1

I have been approached lately with the issue of oral modifications made outside the main written lease/rental agreement and what impact they have on the lease/rental agreement. Are they valid? Are they enforceable? If the landlord doesn’t live up to his end of the oral modification, do I have any recourse? What do I do?

First of all, what is an oral modification? Basically, it is a verbal change or alteration of the existing written agreement not reduced to writing. For example, if pursuant to the written rental agreement your rent is due on the 1st of each month and during a conversation with the landlord you ask him if you can pay on the 10th of the month and he says yes, you have orally modified the rental agreement.

However, what happens when, pursuant to the above conversation, you do not pay your rent on the 1st of the month and as your waiting for the 10th to roll around, on the 8th you get an eviction notice? Your first instinct would be to refer to the recent conversation you had where the landlord agreed to the later payment date. Will that prevent you from being evicted? Can you enforce the oral modification?

To answer that, first you have to read your lease/rental agreement. Does it allow for subsequent oral modifications? If it does, then you may have a legal basis to seek enforcement of the agreement. If it does not or contains a clause that expressly prohibits oral modifications, then you have to look at the substance of the modification. Most lease/rental agreements will prohibit any subsequent covenants, promises, agreements or conditions unless it is reduced to writing.

However, even if the lease/rental agreement prohibits such modifications, depending on the substance of the modification, you may still have a legal remedy. In my next blog I will discuss some cases that may be of support in your fight to enforce that oral modification.

As always, please consult with your attorney or an attorney to determine how best to proceed with your issue.

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