How legally binding is a text message?

My friend was going to move into an apartment at college. She had agreed with the other people she was going to move in with that as long as no illegal drugs were used she would be the third person to move in. Yesterday she caught them using an illegal substance and does not want to move in. There has been no lease agreement signed or any physical paper signed to agree on moving in. They say that they have a text message stating that she would move in and that they are going to sue.  Do they have a case? And if so, what would her losses be?

Asked on September 23, 2010 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

An agreement, whether oral or written can be binding. The text message is evidence of an agreement; other evidence could other correspondence or documentation, the testimony of the people involved (for example, your friend would presumably testify that the agreement was she'd move in if there were no drugs), etc. If sued therefore, she would look to present evidence that either the conditions for the agreement (the "consideration") were never fulfilled, since they included a drug-free apartment; or that the agreement  was breached. They'd presumably try to show the opposite, using whatever evidence and testimony they have.

Without a written lease, tenancy is generally tenancy at will or month-to-month tenancy; i.e. w/out a written lease (or sublease), someone can give 30 days notice to move out. A text message that "I'll move in" might not be found to be lease, in which case your friend would be liable for  a month or two rent. (e.g. the month of moving in; then the  month of notice). If the text message were to be considered to have formed a written lease, the liabilty would be for the full lease term. Usually, a text message would not so form a lease, not having the necessary terms and conditions in it, though your friend should show the message and discuss the situation with an attorney who does landlord-tenant law for a more-definitive answer.


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