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I am a college student signing a lease for an apartment to rent for a year. I was told verbally by the sales representative that on-site indoor garage parking would be included with the rent. The realty company sent me a lease through email with some questionable wording for parking, including the statement "parking is not included with this apartment." After some inquiry with the sales representative, he told me that parking is included with rent. After repeating his statement to clarify I understood his comment, he said correct and told me that an addendum would be added to the lease that was sent later to correct the mistake.

My first question is, is this verbal agreement through text message binding to the company? Even though the sales representative did not send me the lease through email, and the sales representative was not the one that represents the company on the lease, does what this person say over text represent the company and legally binding?

After I signed the lease, it took over a month for me finally talk to the realty company after multiple phone calls every week. I left an honest, negative review on Google Ratings in the middle of this process. The realty company finally contacted me a few days after I left the review (They haven't seen my review yet. My review had my full name on the review because of the Google account.) They sent over an incorrect addendum to the lease, stating that an extra fee was going to be applied to my rent for the parking space. I sent screenshots of the text messages I sent through email, but they understand the text messages differently than I do.

I clarified with the sales agent that my rent would not increase with the addition of parking. In the replay email the company noticed my Google review, and threatened me with legal action (defamation) if I do not remove my negative review and ceased to do more business with me until I do so.

I know I signed the bad lease already, I understand that document is legally binding. The worse case scenario would be that I would just have to suck up the monthly cost of rent, and add parking on top or leave the car at home to save money for that year before I can sign a different lease.

I just want to know my rights as a tenant and their rights as a landlord. How legally binding is what the sales representative says to represent the company. How legally binding are text messages, and is there anything I can do to improve the situation?

Thanks for reading, all options would help greatly!

Edit 8/4/18 (@Iñaki Viggers): I cannot reproduce the negative review. I removed the text from my review, and changed the starts from 1 to 3 as a median until I get this sorted out. I basically said that the reality company has little to no communication with customers, and after over a month of weekly calls the only person that I was able to talk to was the front desk receptionist. I used no names, I did not use any foul language, and gave my overall experience with the company so far.

Edit 8/4/18 (@phoog): Here is the transcript of my text messages and the quotes in the lease and addendum.

7/9/18 Sales Agent 1 (SA1):Sign the lease please.

Tenant: A new lease was not sent to me that says I have parking. The lease that insert name sent June 29 is an old lease that says I do not have parking. Please send a new lease for me to sign or else legally you don't have to provide parking for me. Sorry for being a pain, but I just want everything in writing so I have a paper trail and a legal document to refer have to in case anything happens.

SA1: Parking is an addendum to the lease. So you sign the lease then get an addendum to the lease.

Tenant: So the rent price stays the same at $1,250 and the addendum will state that I have parking?

SA1: Correct.

Tenant: I just signed the lease. Thanks for clarifying.

SA1: Your welcome.

Tenant: Can I pick up my keys earlier than Sept 1, like Aug 29 so I can start moving in before Sept 1?

7/11/18

Tenant: Hi SA1, can I pick up my keys to the apartment early so I can have time to move in?

7/16/18

SA1: Contact (owner of apartment). She handles move-ins.

Tenant: Can you give me her email? Thanks.

8/2/18

SA1: email address

Parking Addendum

"Tenants shall pay additional $125 per month for one private parking space during the lease period."

  • Before I can answer, could you edit your inquiry to reproduce (preferably with names and other identifying information redacted or removed) the review you posted? That might help assessing whether (and if so, how) the statements in your review could be considered defamatory. If your review is accurate or well grounded, then the company's demand is meritless. – Iñaki Viggers Aug 4 '18 at 13:28
  • Since the meaning of the text messages is also in doubt, you might also quote them here to get some feedback about whether the company's interpretation is reasonable. – phoog Aug 4 '18 at 14:40
  • Edited my original post with further information. – Michael Aug 4 '18 at 23:45
  • What juridiction? (This can matter). That said, it would seem to me that the text messages are "in writing". I would get these reproduced on paper and certified as a true copy so that when there is a dispute later on you have a copy of the evidence. Also, the real estate agent is treated as a representative of the owner and what they represented to you is generally binding on the owner - but if you do land up in a dispute tribunal name both parties. – davidgo Aug 6 '18 at 19:27
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I just want to know my rights as a tenet, their rights as a landlord. How legally binding is what the sales representative says to represent the company. How legally binding are text messages, and is there anything I can do to improve the situation?

The text messages are definitely binding because they seem decisive in your act of signing the lease.

Although this context is one of tenancy, the relevant laws and doctrines are those regarding contracts, fraud, and defamation. For instance, this is not a scenario where a tenant defaults on rent payments repeatedly, engages in conduct that annoys neighbors/tenants, or impairs the health/safety/welfare of employees/tenants.

The interactions between you and SA1 indicate that you would have a valid claim of one or more of the following: breach of contract; promissory estoppel; fraud; and/or breach of fiduciary duty (this one regarding SA1). That is because

  1. you signed the lease (meaning that the contract was formed) with the understanding that parking was included in the $1,250 monthly payment;
  2. despite your 2nd text message on 7/9/18, SA1 failed his duty to clarify that you would be charged an additional fee for parking; and
  3. you reasonably relied upon SA1's assurance that your understanding was accurate.

Insofar as SA1 acted as the landlord's agent, it is up to them how to work out either's omission or misrepresentation. Regardless of that, the landlord has to honor the terms with which they lured you to sign the lease.

As listed here, you might want to file a complaint with the Rental Protection Agency and/or approach the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Also, your lease contract might indicate what venues (if any) for Alternative Dispute Resolution methods should be pursued. You would likely have to pursue those procedures prior to suing them anyway (if you end up filing a lawsuit in court).

The landlord's demand [to withdraw your negative review] cannot lead to a viable claim of defamation (unless the judge is corrupt). The veracity of your review is objectively verifiable if need be (for instance, by subpoeaning the phone service provider), and the rest of the review (giving one star instead of three or five) are statements of opinion. Opinions are never considered defamatory unless they are framed to convey a false statement of fact.

I gather that you withdrew the negative review so as to facilitate matters, but the landlord improperly resorted to intimidation by threatening to take "legal action". If the landlord did that through an attorney, the latter should be reported with the state's agency in charge of disciplining its bar members.

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