Can emails be used to prove a contract in small claims court?

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Can emails be used to prove a contract in small claims court?

At my old apartment, I paid my roommate’s rent for 1 month ($800). I also 1/2 of my deposit because he owed the landlord money. The total he did owe me was $1,200. I don’t have any signed paperwork saying he would pay me back. He did start to pay me back with a $200 check a few months agobut now he says he isn’t paying the rest back to me. I do have emails, and facebook emails talking about how much he owes me, and that he will pay me back. I can also get a copy of the check that I wrote to the landlord to cover his rent. I can also get a copy of the $200 check he sent to  me.

Asked on December 7, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Contracts can be formed in many ways. The classic is the written contract, a single document signed by both parties setting forth the terms of their agreement. However, oral (also called verbal) contracts are enforceable in most cases (there are a few special types that are not). In between the two are agreements shown by an exchange of correspondence. The key is that there must have been an offer--such as to loan money; acceptance of that offer; and some consideration (such as the exchange of money) to bind the contract. If there is, then it should be enforceable, and if you have emails or other correspondence and evidence, you can use that to prove the existence and terms of the agreement. One important point: the agreement that this money was a loan and not, say, a gift, must have been made up front, before the money changed hands. If you simply paid the money for your roommate under conditions that looks like it might have been a gift or might have been done for your own benefit with no expectation of repayment (e.g. to avoid eviction), you cannot after the fact change a unilateral payment into a loan.


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