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I've recently signed a lease for an apartment in Maryland. Before signing the lease I visited the unit in person, spoke with leasing staff, made a deposit to reserve the unit, and received a written receipt for that deposit with the sq. ft., style (3B2B), and other features of the unit. It did not have the specific address of the unit.

The lease I signed had only the address of the unit, cost, duration of lease, but no information regarding the features of the unit.

The leasing company switched the address on the lease changing it to one at a different address with completely different features. Its hundreds of sq. ft. less and is only a 2B1B but my price remained the same and I was never told orally or in writing of this change. The unit was switched without my knowledge seemingly right before the contract was signed.

Is there some kind of consumer protection against this activity?

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Have you made sure this isn't just a cock-up? Hanlon's razor suggests that you shouldn't attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

Assuming that you have talked to the agent and they are insisting that the unit on the lease is the unit you rented. On the face of it, you signed a lease to rent unit B, the fact that you saw and were given information about unit A is irrelevant.

From a strict contract law position, the parol evidence rule, which is good law in Maryland, means that when a contract is reduced to writing then that is the entire agreement between the parties and you cannot turn to prior discussions or correspondence. The justification for this rule is that parties may adopt many positions during negotiations and that they may be modified or abandoned many times during those negotiations but when the final agreement is reduced to writing then it says what the parties mean it to say.

However, where there are allegations of fraud, accident or mistake, you can consider matters circumstantial to the execution of the contract.

I really think that you will have a hard time proving fraud and, to be honest, I don't know what Glass v Doctors Hospital, Inc. 213 Md. 44, 56 (1957) meant when they uised the term "accident".

What you have here is a unilateral mistake i.e. a mistake made by one party (you). Unfortunately:

It is the rule in general that a contract will not be reformed for a unilateral mistake, nor does such a mistake, of itself render the transaction voidable. However, equitable relief by way of rescission1 may be given if the mistake relates to a material feature of the contract, if it is of such grave consequence that enforcement of the contract as made will be unconscionable, if it occurred notwithstanding the exercise of ordinary diligence by the party making the mistake, and if the other party can be put in statu quo.

Of the four elements, you are good to go on 1, 2 & 4. No 3 is where the trouble is - "it occurred notwithstanding the exercise of ordinary diligence by the party making the mistake". Without knowing all the surrounding details (e.g. were you shown multiple dwellings, where addresses sent in correspondence etc.) I can't really comment on if you showed "ordinary dilligence" or not.

1 Rescission means the contract never happened - everyone goes back to the status quo. this remedy is not available where third-parties would suffer damage from this.

  • We only ever looked at 1 unit and never received any verbal/written communication of the switch. After the lease was singed they admitted to fault verbally to the effect of "we're sorry, so and so from the leasing office was supposed to contact you" and also that "the new unit is the same 3B2B just like the other one" all before seeing it for the first time. Thanks for your response it's very thorough and informative. – Aage Torleif Dec 10 '18 at 11:28

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