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Does a Verbal Agreement Override a Written Lease?

by Elizabeth Rayne

If you have a laid back relationship with your landlord, you may be comfortable with agreeing to changes to your lease agreement verbally, but this may cause problems down the line. Although you may technically change or override your written lease by a verbal agreement, it may be hard to prove to a court that these changes were actually agreed upon. In addition, certain lease agreements must be in writing in order to be enforceable.

Verbal Agreements

In many cases, a verbal agreement is enforceable just as if it were in writing. However, unlike a written lease, you may not have any hard evidence to prove an oral agreement. As a result, even though a verbal agreement in some cases may override a written lease, it is best to put all agreements and amendments to agreements in writing, in case any disagreements arise that end up in the courtroom.

Review the Lease

In some cases, a lease may state that the agreement may not be amended by any future oral agreements. Such clauses are not always enforceable in court, particularly if the tenant and landlord made frequent oral modifications to the lease that neither objected to. However, when the lease prohibits verbal modification, it may more difficult to prove that the change in agreement took place. Again, this is another reason why changes to the lease should be in writing.

Consent and Waivers

In some cases, the tenant and the landlord may make an adjustment to the lease that actually does not change the agreement, but waives certain prohibitions in the lease. For example, if the lease prohibited the tenant from having dogs, but then the landlord consented to the tenant adopting two puppies, this would waive that portion of the lease. However, this does not override or modify the written lease; it only permits certain activities that would otherwise be prohibited. Consent or waiver may be verbal, but just like any other changes to the lease, it is best if it is in writing.

Statute of Frauds

Under a legal doctrine known as the "statute of frauds," certain agreements must be in writing to be enforceable. All agreements to lease real estate for a period of a year or longer generally must be in writing. This requirement applies to the original agreement and to any subsequent agreements. So, if the lease lasts longer than a year, a verbal agreement would likely not override the written lease.

About the Author

Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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