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My landlord emailed me a copy of our new lease as a PDF document. I am to print it out, initial each page and then sign and date the last page, scan it, and email it back to him.

Can't I simply scan my initials and signature and insert them as images into the PDF, and email the modified document back? Would it really make a difference?

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At common law you do not need to sign a contract for it to be legally enforceable; it doesn't even have to be written down. Local real estate law may require a lease to be in writing (and possibly even signed). Putting that aside generally, the purpose of signing a contract is to:

  1. Show the intention to be legally bound. This is superfluous: they have sent you the lease, you have moved in - it is clear you both intend to be legally bound.
  2. Avoid future disputes over what the terms of the lease are. Signing it provides evidence that the document has not been altered subsequently. A written rather than a scanned signature is better for this simply because anyone with reasonably low computer skills can take a scanned image and apply it to another document. Better than both is a secure electronic signature that is invalidated if the document is changed.

Unless you or your landlord are willing to commit fraud to win a dispute over a lease, it probably doesn't matter either way.

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    Anecdata to support this: many years ago when in college without immediate access to a scanner, I executed a contract by typing "(signed) My Name" in text and emailing it, and it all worked out. – user662852 Oct 8 '15 at 2:53
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Makes no difference how you get the marks into the PDF if the counterparty is satisfied with the result.

Typically, if a counterparty cares they would ask you to forward signed hardcopy through regular mail.

If they really care, they will ask for a notarized copy of the agreement.

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You can use electronic signatures. They are like traditional ink signatures, but applied electronically to documents without any printing or scanning required. Or try digital signature as well. It’s more secure than a traditional ink signature or a signature image overlaid on a PDF file.

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    You are not describing electronic signatures correctly. These require a private key and do not appear on the document as a traditional physical signature. Electronic signatures are logical verification, not visual. – jqning Dec 2 '16 at 13:39

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