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This is a major edit of a question which had number of ambiguities. Hopefully, the edits will clear the ambiguities.

So, A, B, and C were co-tenants on a lease in an apartment in California and A, B, and C used to pay the rent together to a landlord. And co-tenant A wanted to move out of the place. So A convinced B and C that if as co-tenants A,B, and C sign the new lease identical to the original without A's name on it (effectively "removing" A from the lease), A would in exchange, provide postdated checks to the landlord for the next three months of "A's portion" of the rent, plus the lease change agreement fee. So B and C signed the new lease without A on it.

Note that here, A's agreement to pay "A's portion" (which technically isn't spelled out in the lease) of the rent was only communicated to B and C, and not the landlord. In fact, for the lease change, the landlord did not inquire nor care about who will pay how much - just that the rent for the place were to be paid by somebody (including possibly those outside the lease).

Soon after A moved out, B and C found out that A in fact, asked the landlord to give A back the postdated checks, and B and C are the only ones obligated to pay the upcoming rent.

So in summary, what's remaining are 1) the new lease which is identical but without A on it, and 2) rental obligations of B and C (which are now increased), and 3) some traces of A saying that A will pay to the landlord "A's portion" of the rent after the lease change.

From some of the answers to the original question, there seem to be contract between A and (B and C) for paying "A's portion" of the rent, and another contract, the new lease between (B and C) and the landlord.

What legal actions do B and C have against A? And which actions are likely to succeed?

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  • In which jurisdiction? Was A actually removed from the lease? Why did the landlord give the checks back to A? Unless you can prove that the agreement was for A to pay those three months your chances are slim, I'm afraid. – Ángel 2 days ago
  • @Angel It was in California (I'll edit the question to reflect that). And as for why the landlord gave the checks back to A, that's beyond me honestly :( – Kevin K 2 days ago
  • @Angel Is there really no option? O, dear... – Kevin K 2 days ago
  • @Ángel Isn't it a fraud to deceive about something money-related (as in the lease)? – Kevin K 2 days ago
  • What does "getting off the lease" consist of? You should lay out exactly what agreements there were, and whether they were verbal or written. Note that this would include the original lease, the modified lease, any arrangements as to who is responsible for what portion of the rent, etc. – Acccumulation 2 days ago
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B and C have a contract with A

In return for paying 3 months rent, B and C will remove A from the lease. This has all the required elements to be a contract.

B and C have fulfilled their obligations and A hasn’t. B & C could sue A for damages.

They would need to prove that there was such an agreement and that they agreement was a legally binding contract. Is this agreement written down? Was it witnessed by impartial third parties? What evidence of this agreement do you actually have? If A says they agreed to X, yet B & C say they agreed to Y: what evidence exists to show who is right and who is wrong?

Failing to fulfill the obligations of a contract is not fraud. For there to be fraud, B & C would have to prove that A never intended to comply by the terms of the agreement. Given that the terms of the agreement are somewhat ambiguous, this would be very difficult. This seems to be more of a case where [Hanlon's Razor]: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." That is, A's actions are more likely to be the result of a misunderstanding (by A, or B & C, or both) than a deliberate plan of deception.

The landlord is not involved - they removed A from the lease at the request of A, B & C; they’ve done what they’re required to do.

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  • Must this agreement be part of an officially signed contract, or can it be oral or a part of traceable exchanges (text messages, chats, emails, etc.). – Kevin K 2 days ago
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    @Dale M Is it fraud in the inducement if A went into the contract intending to breach after B and C performed? I've never been clear on whether intent to breach is enough to trigger fraud in the inducement, or if it has to be a misrepresentation as to some external fact. – bdb484 2 days ago
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    @KevinK oral contracts are contracts. The problem is they’re not worth the paper they’re written on. – Dale M 2 days ago
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    @Dale M First, I didn't know Fraud doesn't get my money back. And second, I care about the scenario for the sake of it, ok? Please be respectful. Some people are under a lot of stress. – Kevin K 2 days ago
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    @DaleM It's bold of you to assume that I was the victim of this incident, when I could just as easily be an acquaintance of B or C (or maybe the perpetrator A him/herself, hmmm?) I posted question partly out of curiosity (I said "some people" are under a lot of stress). Also, a useful life lesson - if you got nothing nice to say, don't say it. You could've just as easily ignored my question and be over it, if you "didn't want [me] to come to you with [my] feelings." – Kevin K yesterday
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have (jointly) entered into an agreement with A. In this agreement, B&C agree to request the Landlord (L) to modify the lease so as to omit A and make only B&C (and L of course) parties to the modified lease, at the same total rent. They also agree to sign and accept the modified lease. A agrees to pay a part of the rent for a period of three months, via post-dated checks, when the modified lease would not require him to pay this. This is a contract, whether it is written or not. (Apparently it is not written.) L is not a party to this contract.

When A retrieves his post-dated checks from L, s/he breaches this contract. (If he does not make payment by the agreed date, A even more clearly and seriously breaches it.) B&C have a cause of action for this breach against A. If they prove the statements in the original question, they should get the full amount of A's agreed payment, plus any additional amounts caused by the breach, such as court costs, perhaps legal fees, and interest if B&C had to borrow to make their rent payment. In short they should be put in the same financial position that they would have been in had A kept the agreement.

@Iñaki Viggers says this is also fraud on the part of A. If A intened, when the agreem,ent was made, to reneg on the agreement by reclaiming the checks, and did not intend to pay the agreed amounts, that would indeed be fraud. But if A agreed in good faith, but only later decided not to pay, that weould be an intentional breach of contract, but not fraud. Proving fraud might be hsrd, while proving breach of contract should be much easier. Proof of fraud would entitle B&C to additional damages.

It has been suggested that B&C can rescind their agreement with A, therby putting A back on the lease. But since L is not a party to this contract, L cannot be required to retract the modified lease. If I am correct about this, B&C have done an irrevocable act, and thus cannot rescind, but must seek damages or equitable relief instead. (For L to be a party, there would need to be facts not stated in the question, such as L being notified that the agreement was conditioned on A's post-dated payment, and L's agreement to accept this.)

In any case, it should be noted that most leases with multiple tenants make all tenants "jointly and severally liable" for the total rent. If this is true here, L could proceed against B&C or either one of them, for the entire rent, even if A had remained on the lease, and might well do so if A had moved away, particularly if A had moved out of state. Thus the position of B&C is not seriously improved by putting A back on the lease, even if it were possible to do so. The lease is unlikely to recognize any individual "share" of the rent that is less than the total rent.

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  • The phrase with "but only later decided not to pay" ignores the fraudulent nature of A's conduct. As I gather from the OP's narrative, upon performing his contract with B & C and successfully inducing them to modify the lease, A went behind their back for the purpose of withdrawing his postdated checks. A's acts seem calculated to prevent B and C from alerting the landlord. And with A back in the lease, an adjustment of joint-and-several liability would be warranted in light of A's violation of the covenant of good faith & fair dealing that is implied in all contracts. – Iñaki Viggers 50 mins ago
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Get all your text messages, emails, etc. together and explain the situation to someone new using those documents as the evidence of each element of your agreement with A. If you can demonstrate the actual terms of your agreement that everyone acted upon using these writings and only filling in gaps that are not material (vital) to your dispute, then you can win in small claims court. Its possible you will get a judgment against A if you can show the judge that A committed to something, even though you didn't have the foresight to use a real contract. Collecting on a judgement may pose a new challenge. It may be enough to just remind your friend that if you were to file a lawsuit the case could get on their credit reports, background checks, etc. and that you intend to collect on the judgment and would be able to do so for the rest of their life.

In 20 years this will seem petty and insignificant and its more important how you treat people in life than who owes who what so keep that in mind and don't let this get the best of you. If money is tight, California renters are currently protected by the Covid-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 Code of Civil Procedure section 1179.01

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What legal actions do B and C have against A?

Your description sounds in claims of fraud (provided that B and C incurred actual losses), and, in the alternative, breach of contract. At the very least, B and C are entitled to (1) rescinding their contract with A, (2) rescinding the modification of the lease, and (3) recovering from any losses incurred so far as a result of A's course of conduct.

Although there is no written contract between A and B&C, the sequence of events evidences the existence of a contract. Modification of a joint lease, A's moving out, and A's retrieval of his postdated checks don't typically happen just by chance.

It seems hard for A to persuasively explain why he issued postdated checks at once, especially if (?) it was not A's habit to do so. Likewise, the issuance and amount of the postdated checks defeat A's possible allegation that pure and sole kindness prompted B and C to release A from their contract with the landlord.

A's retrieval of his postdated checks is tantamount to rescinding his contract with B and C, since A is withdrawing the consideration that was required of him. Equivalently, the contract is voidable by B and C because it was made on the basic assumption --and indeed the obvious presumption-- that A would not approach the landlord unbeknownst to B and C to upset the agreed exchange of performances. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts at §153. Either way entitles B and C to the conclusion that the modified lease is null and void.

Your description also suggests the legal theory of fraud and the availability of treble (or even higher) damages. See Bardis v. Oates, 14 Cal.Rptr.3d 89, 106, 108 (2004) "California typically imposes treble damages penalties for fraudulent and bad faith conduct". Regardless of the availability of common law fraud under California law, A's conduct is tantamount to "writing a dishonored check without good faith dispute as to the debt". See Id. at 106 and section 1719(2) of California Civil Code.

Intent is an element of fraud. See Alliance Mortgage Co. v. Rothwell, 10 Cal.4th 1226, 1239 (1995). My understanding is that A sought retrieval of his postdated checks after the lease was modified and/or in a way calculated to prevent B and C from advising the landlord not to return the postdated checks to A. If so, that timing makes it relatively easy to establish A's intent to defraud.

It is unclear from your description whether the element of resulting damages (see element (5) in Alliance Mortgage) has already materialized. If it has not, B and C should still pursue A's honoring of the contract. Although allowing losses to incur for the purpose of accruing treble damages sounds tempting, doing so is likely to backfire because it would constitute invited error, thereby defeating the otherwise meritorious claims B and C might have.

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  • Hi Inaki. Thank you for your answer! Yours by far is the most comprehensive and clear. A few questions: as I mentioned, there are two contracts - one between (B and C) and A and one between B, C and the landlord. You say that B, C have the right to recsind the contract - does it only apply to the first and not the second? The lease even has a clause that everything written is final (and overrides anything contrary written or oral), and the landlord does not seem likely to rescind the change. – Kevin K yesterday
  • So the contract between A and B,C is so that B, C were led to do something that's not immediately reversible. So it only seems that the pursuing reparation for the resulting damages are the only possibility. Well, thank you. It's nice to get a solid information from you :) – Kevin K yesterday
  • @KevinK "does it only apply to the first and not the second?" Rescinding the modification of the lease would be legal consequence of rescinding the contract B and C had with A. Language of "final" cannot result in impunity, especially since landlord gave away the postdated checks. If the landlord refuses to rescind the modification, B and C should consider suing the landlord so that ultimately their rent is restored back to when A was co-tenant. Although some context on the postdated checks is missing, the landlord's act seems to weaken any arguments he might advance against B and C. – Iñaki Viggers yesterday
  • @KevinK As for "pursuing reparation for the resulting damages are the only possibility", the relief depends on what B and C can prove. Rescinding both the contract with A and the lease modification seems most straight-forward. Suing A for breach of contract implies that B and C will still have to pay the landlord under the terms of the modified lease regardless of whether or when they recover from A. And a legal theory of fraud is generally harder to establish because of the element of intent to defraud, although your description of A's conduct suggests this might be rather viable. – Iñaki Viggers yesterday
  • I do not think that B&C can force the landlord (L) to undo the the lease modification, even if they prove all the statements in the question in court. Unless, that is the landlord was notified that the new lease was conditioned on the "share" payments by A. B&C entered into a new contract with L to which A was not a parrty. Their dispute with A woiuld not change that. They do have a claim against A. – David Siegel yesterday

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