The tenants guide distributed by the California courts
addresses this (partially) on p. 21
The rental agreement may be oral or written, however, it is strongly
recommended that the parties have a written rental agreement. The
landlord is required to provide the tenant with a signed copy of the
rental agreement within 15 days of its execution. The landlord and
tenant should retain copies of the signed rental agreement for their
records. An oral agreement is an agreement where the terms are agreed
upon by spoken communication. This is in contrast to a written
agreement where the terms are set forth in a written document. A
tenancy term of more than one year must be in writing. Oral agreements
for a tenancy term of more than a year are unenforceable.
Text messages are a form of writing. However, looking at the bits of code in the associated footnote, Cal. Civ. 1624
(a) The following contracts are invalid, unless they, or some note or
memorandum thereof, are in writing and subscribed by the party to be
charged or by the party’s agent: ... (3) An agreement for the leasing
for a longer period than one year, or for the sale of real property,
or of an interest therein; such an agreement, if made by an agent of
the party sought to be charged, is invalid, unless the authority of
the agent is in writing, subscribed by the party sought to be charged.
("subscribed" means signed). An unsigned written 2 year lease is invalid, so by default the only lease that exists is a month-to-month lease. That is sort of what the attorney was saying.
One other issue is that para (d) says
An electronic message of an ephemeral nature that is not designed to
be retained or to create a permanent record, including, but not
limited to, a text message or instant message format communication, is
insufficient under this title to constitute a contract to convey real
property, in the absence of a written confirmation that conforms to
the requirements of subparagraph (B) of paragraph (3) of subdivision
It's not obvious that text messages are "ephemeral", but the statute suggests that they are, and text messages are not legally binding as contracts in California, at least those subject to the requirement to be in writing.