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Real estate Q&A: Written lease trumps prior verbal agreement

By Gary M. Singer, Sun Sentinel –

QUESTION: Years ago we bought a mobile home, but we lease the lot that it sits on. The lot lease was affordable but has gone up every year to the point where it is difficult to pay. The landlord had told us that the lease would go up only if the taxes did, but when I recently read the lease contract it said it would go up 5 percent every year, which it has. Is there anything we can do?


ANSWER: Probably not. Generally, contracts can be either written or verbal, but the “Statute of Frauds” is a rule of law that requires certain types of contracts to be in writing to prevent injury from fraudulent conduct or just the uncertainty of memory. For example, contracts related to the transfer of real estate, for the purchase of goods over $500, guaranteeing another person’s debt, and contracts that can’t be completed in one year must all be in writing to be valid.

In your case, the lease contract is for more than a year and therefore must be in writing. Further, most contracts contain a clause that states that the entire agreement is in writing and that any previous verbal agreements are not valid. Sometimes when a written agreement is vague, verbal comments made about the lease can be used to help the judge interpret what was agreed to, but when the written agreement is clear, as in your situation, oral evidence can’t be used regarding the agreement. Because your agreement falls into the category that must be in writing and is clear about the 5 percent annual increase, it appears you are stuck with what was agreed to in the contract.

Even if the agreement was not required to be in writing, a written agreement will hold much more weight with the court than conflicting memories of what was said years ago. Still, you may want to speak with your landlord and see if you can work something out. You can move your mobile home, and the landlord may decide that a tenant paying a little less is better than an empty lot.

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