I owed my landlord from a small claims case. I was making payment towards the debt until I lost my business. Recently I contacted her to negotiate the pending debt. She sent me a text responding that it I give her a money order for 75% of the amount that she will go to the court and tell them that I paid the full amount. After I told her that I had the money for her she changed the amount owed and is now asking for an additional $750. What can I do?

  • State of Connecticut ( landlord/tenant law)
    – Iris
    Jan 30 '17 at 3:39

A text message is just as legally binding as a letter, and the lion's share of the cases have held that a text message from a known sending phone number is equivalent to a signed letter.

One would have to carefully parse the exchange of communications to see if they amounted to a binding offer and acceptance, but the fact that it was in a text message, rather than on a piece of paper is irrelevant.

Indeed, generally speaking, such an offer and acceptance, if the words exchange show that, could be binding even if made orally, if it could be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.

Procedurally, however, once a judgment has been entered, as is the case here, the process of proving that you have complied with a stipulation regarding what is to constitute payment in full may be challenging. I'll leave the question of civil procedure in Connecticut small claims court to someone more knowledgable about it than I am as that could vary a lot from state to state, or even from court to court based upon local practice within the state.

  • Can I bring the text to court as proof that she agreed to accept 75% of the debt as full payment?
    – Iris
    Jan 30 '17 at 3:47
  • I don't know. In an ordinary hearing with no advanced disclosure of evidence requirements you could, but I don't know how this would be handled in this court.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 30 '17 at 3:48
  • +1. It doesn't matter how it's recorded (even if it's just in the memory of the parties), a contract is a contract.
    – Nij
    Jan 30 '17 at 4:33
  • @Nij but there is no contract here - the OP has not provided any consideration.
    – Dale M
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:32
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    @Sizzle This isn't a forum for providing specific legal advice. But, the answer to the question re text messages generally is that they have the effect fo signed letters.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 21 '19 at 5:56

In return for her agreeing to waive her claim for part of the debt owed, what did you give her?

If you gave her nothing then you do not have a binding contract irrespective of if it is in writing or not. She is perfectly within her rights to say "Give me 75% today and I'll waive the rest" and then, when you pay the 75%, pursue you for the balance because her offer had no consideration on your side. While this may be unethical, it is not illegal.

Alternatively, if in return for the waiving of the debt you agreed to wash her car or walk her dog then you would have a binding contract and the text(s) would be evidence of this. More relevantly, if your agreed payment meant that the landlord got their money (or some of it) earlier than they otherwise would then this would be valuable consideration.

  • 4
    The tenant already agreed to pay at a certain time. The landlord has accepted an expedited schedule of payments in exchange for part of them; there's consideration.
    – Nij
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:38
  • @Nij that would qualify, however, I can't see that in the OP. Specifically the OP failed to meet the schedule and wants to renegotiate - extending the time to pay would be consideration from the landlord.
    – Dale M
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:46
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    I think there is not enough information to say definitively that payments were missed, though it is a firm implication.
    – Nij
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:47
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    The consideration would be receiving voluntary and prompt payment of a money judgment in lieu of having to expend money to collect the judgment involuntarily at considerable expense via garnishment, etc. This kind of agreement is made and upheld as legal all of the time.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:49

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