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Renters are bound by lease as soon as they sign it

September 22nd, 2013

Los Angeles Times

By Martin Eichner
September 20, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

Question: My partner and I went to check out a vacant apartment in a very attractive local rental community. We met with the management’s leasing staff in the community’s leasing office. We were happy with the rent amount and the other basic terms they described verbally, including a one-year lease. However, when they asked us to sign the lease we saw that it had a lot of pages with many terms and conditions. We asked if we could take a copy home to review before we signed it, but the leasing agent said no, because the lease was a proprietary document. Basically we were told to sign immediately if we wanted the apartment. We were told a copy would be sent to us after we signed.

We decided to go ahead and sign because we believed there was a law that allowed us to rescind the lease within three days, so we would be safe if it turned out we didn’t like the lease details. As three days were passing, we asked for our copy but did not receive it. Then when we tried to notify management that we were rescinding the lease under the three-day rule, they told us there was no such law. We have moved into the community because we didn’t want to lose our deposit, but we still don’t have a copy of the lease even though a month has passed. Were our rights violated?

Answer: Unfortunately for you and your partner, you were relying on a very common misconception when you assumed you had three days to cancel the lease you signed. Certain contracts such as consumer contracts are by law subject to a right to rescind within three days after execution, but there is no such right under the laws governing residential rental agreements. You were bound by the lease as soon as you signed it.

Also, there is no law that obligated the leasing staff to allow you to have a copy of the lease before you signed it. However, their failure to allow you sufficient time to review the document prior to signature should have been a red flag for you.

Civil Code Section 1962 does require your new landlord to provide a copy of the signed lease to you within 15 days after you signed it. Since it has now been more than 30 days since you signed your lease, your new landlord has violated this statute. Section 1962 does not, on its face, render the lease void for failure to comply with the duty to provide a copy.

However, you should document the landlord’s failure to comply with an email or letter demanding a copy. The landlord’s failure to comply, combined with the failure to allow you a sufficient opportunity to review the document, will give you a strong argument that the many detailed provisions in the lease form are not enforceable against you.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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