I have a fully executed apartment lease, signed by myself and the property manager, that unambiguously states that the monthly rent is $0.

This is an obvious error. Am I legally obligated to pay rent?

EDIT: Property is located in North Carolina.

EDIT #2: I have paid an application fee and security deposit. Neither of these fees are mentioned in the lease. In lease addendums, non-zero monthly fees for a parking space and trash service are specified.


That's a bad mistake by the property manager. Here's the problem: You clearly have a contract (the fact that you pay for parking and trash service makes it contract), and clearly there is a mistake, but now we don't know what the rent actually is - not from the contract, but I assume you agreed verbally on a number with the property manager. If you try to pay no rent, you will not be getting away with it, and things will go to court, and between you and the property manager you will lose out by paying money for lawyers and wasting your time.

If you pay what you think is the agreed rent, and the property manager accepts that, then you should be legally fine - in the unlikely case that your contract went to court, you would point at the the $0 is clearly wrong, and the fact that you paid $X and the landlord didn't complain is strong evidence that the correct amount is $X. In the case that your landlord suddenly realised the contract says $0 (clearly wrong) and he then claims the correct rent was $X + $200 then he would be getting nowhere with this.

  • Either party could probably get out on a theory of mutual mistake or failure to reach a true agreement on the material terms unless one could devise a reason to explain that $0 was actually correct, which you probably couldn't do with out lying. Depending on the length of the lease and NC law the statute of fraud might make an oral agreement void.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 20 '16 at 17:56
  • The relevant statute of frauds in NC is NC Statutes § 22-2 which states in the pertinent part that "All . . . other leases and contracts for leasing lands exceeding in duration three years from the making thereof, shall be void unless said contract, or some memorandum or note thereof, be put in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith, or by some other person by him thereto lawfully authorized."
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 20 '16 at 18:35
  • 1
    @ohwilleke - How does that statute apply to (or inform) this answer, or the question?
    – feetwet
    Dec 20 '16 at 23:59
  • If the lease has a term of three or more years, the Court may not have the authority to enforce a verbal agreement as to the rent (yes, there are a variety of exceptions to the statute of frauds that could conceivably apply here, but it still might bar a blue pencil of the agreement to fit an oral agreement), leaving termination of the lease as the sole option. It also occurs to me as I consider exceptions that if any other documents besides the lease in the deal mentioned the actual intended rent that would be material.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 21 '16 at 22:25

The landlord will not let you live there "for free", and neither will a court. I am aware that, in some cases, courts can "repair" contracts that are difficult to fairly "break"; perhaps by trying to determine a "fair" rent and making that the effective rent for the remainder of the term. Not a lawyer and I don't know if that happens in practice but I think courts are allowed to consider what is equitable when the agreement is disputed. Note that when you go to court and the judge asks you what the agreement was, you had better have a more convincing answer than "$0/mo". Tell the judge that and you might actually be furnished with completely free accommodations for 10-30 days.

  • 1
    A court could find that the written agreement was intended, that there was no valid agreement reached, or could enforce an oral agreement, but generally couldn't simply impose a "fair" rent where a written lease was executed but did not accurately reflect the agreement of the parties regarding rent.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 20 '16 at 18:37
  • @ohwilleke Wouldn't the landlord be entitled to relief under the restatement of contracts? This seems like a unilateral mistake and is clearly (IMHO) unconscionable, especially w.r.t. "market" or "fair" rental rates.
    – Patrick87
    Dec 20 '16 at 21:47
  • The landlord's relief for unilateral mistake would usually to be to get out of the contract, not to blue pencil the rental rate in the absence of an agreement. It goes to failure of contract formation.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 20 '16 at 23:38
  • 1
    @ohwilleke - Breaking the contract could easily be tortious to the counterparty, who likely (or at least could have reasonably) acted based on the evidence of an agreement. Does promissory estoppel not apply here?
    – feetwet
    Dec 20 '16 at 23:57
  • It wouldn't be "breaking the contract" it would be a determination that a contract was not formed in the first place despite coming close. Promissory estoppel is like breach of contract except that it is enforceable due to a party's reliance on the promise, rather than the existence of consideration. But, the minor charges alone would be consideration and promissory estoppel is available only when there is no contract. Reliance would be hard to show in an executory lease like this one. It might come into play if the parties ignored the error and acted as if it involved the proper rent.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 21 '16 at 22:28

No you are not but since you are providing no consideration you don't have a contract so they are not obligated to do anything either - like letting you live there.

  • 4
    Landlord/tenant law, in the US at least, is one area where states have imposed all kinds of statutory limitations that take precedence. Any answer based solely on contract law is likely to be incorrect.
    – phoog
    Dec 20 '16 at 3:06
  • 1
    So if we take the executed contract at face value, is it a nullity because there is no consideration? Or could it be validated by the renter unilaterally giving the landlord a peppercorn and saying, "I hereby add this consideration to our written agreement?"
    – feetwet
    Dec 21 '16 at 0:03
  • 1
    @feetwet Well, the question is whether the contract has consideration for both parties, not whether both parties have received consideration and/or gifts from each other. The contract requires a meeting of minds so it cannot be amended unilaterally. So the peppercorn does nothing unless the landlord agrees to so modify the agreement. Mar 1 '17 at 3:14

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