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Suppose a landlord and tenant enter into a lease agreement where the landlord is named in the lease agreement but the landlord's spouse signs the lease. Is such a lease enforceable in court?

For example, suppose the lease contains the following provision:

This lease is made on January 1, 2023 between Rachel & Jared Smith ("Tenants") and Robert Gates ("Landlord").

But instead of Robert Gate's signature appearing at the bottom of the lease, his wife's signature appears: Elizabeth Gates.

Is such a lease enforceable in NJ?

  • Would it matter whether the landlord's spouse is on the title of the house or not? If the spouse is on the title she may be able to enter into a contract agreement in her own right. On the other hand, the lease may still be void because it contains conflicting information as regards to who is actually entering the agreement.

  • Would it matter if the husband/wife could prove that he authorized her to sign on his behalf? Would signing her own name instead of his name be problematic?

  • What if the other party does not dispute that she signed on her husband's behalf?

What relevant doctrine & case law can be applied to analyze this case in NJ?

2 Answers 2

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It could go either way

Let's dispose of the two trivial cases:

  1. if all parties agree there is a valid lease, then there is a valid lease;
  2. if all parties agree there is no valid lease, then there is no valid lease.

Now we get into the weeds, and it all depends on the various parties' circumstances and positions. There are four people involved: two possible tenants, Rachel and Jared, and two possible landlords, Robert and Elizabeth, and each could be seeking to have the contract affirmed or set aside and mounting various arguments to that effect. To keep this from getting out of hand, I'll confine this answer to just the questions you asked - there is enough material in the scenario for a term paper on contract, property and agency law.

Would it matter whether the landlord's spouse is on the title of the house or not? If the spouse is on the title she may be able to enter into a contract agreement in her own right. On the other hand, the lease may still be void because it contains conflicting information as regards to who is actually entering the agreement.

Absolutely. It also matters if you mean on the title "as well" or on the title "instead" of Robert.

If Elizabeth is the sole owner, she acts on her own behalf, and the lease is valid. The fact that it has Robert's name printed on it would probably be treated as an irrelevant clerical error.

If Robert and Elizabeth are joint owners, then any contract must, of necessity, have both of them as one of the parties. Elizabeth can act on her own behalf, but she must be acting as an agent of Robert for the contract to be binding. Again, the fact that only one of them is named in the contract would probably be treated as an irrelevant clerical error.

Similarly, if Robert is the sole owner of the property, then Elizabeth must be acting as his agent to enter the lease.

Would it matter if the husband/wife could prove that he authorized her to sign on his behalf? Would signing her own name instead of his name be problematic?

Whether Elizabeth is or is not Robert's agent is a matter of fact - she either is and the contract is binding, or she is not and the contract is void (q.v. apparent authority below) - see Jarjo v Patterson [2022] NSWSC 1049. So, if Robert authorised Elizabeth then she is his agent and the contract is valid whether she signs it Elizabeth, Robert, or Micky Mouse.

What if the other party does not dispute that she signed on her husband's behalf?

It doesn't matter whether Rachel and Jared know the true situation or not with respect to the validity of the contract. If there is deceit or negligent misstatement by Elizabeth, this may give Rachel and Jared grounds to sue Elizabeth for damages caused by this, but the contract would still be void.

However, if it was reasonable in the circumstances for Rachel and Jared to believe that Elizabeth was Robert's agent, then they might be able to claim that she was acting with apparent authority even in the absence of actual authority. From the question, we simply don't have enough information on the circumstances to decide if this argument has legs.

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  • In the case at hand, Rachel & Jared are disputing the validity of the contract. If Robert claims he appointed Elizabeth to act as his agent, can Rachel or Jared dispute that? Suppose both Rachel and Jared signed the lease but only Rachel was present when Elizabeth signed her name on the lease. Can Jared later argue that Elizabeth was not acting as an agent for Robert and he never intended to enter into a lease agreement with Elizabeth (as her name was not on the lease when he signed it & only Rachel saw her signing it)?
    – S.O.S
    Jan 11, 2023 at 3:54
  • That sounds like a different question- please ask it
    – Dale M
    Jan 11, 2023 at 5:31
  • Please check this
    – S.O.S
    Jan 11, 2023 at 6:00
  • @S.O.S "Can Jared later argue that Elizabeth was not acting as an agent for Robert". This was largely addressed in the two last paragraphs of the answer I posted. The fact that "Robert claims he appointed Elizabeth to act as his agent" disproves or strikes tenants' allegation of "not acting as an agent". Jan 11, 2023 at 15:42
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Is a residential lease signed by one's spouse valid?

Yes, except maybe where it is proved (by the landlord) that the spouse was not authorized to enter that lease on behalf of the landlord.

Would signing her own name instead of his name be problematic?

No. As long as it evidences that parties entered a contract willfully and knowingly, it is irrelevant how they sign.

What if the other party does not dispute that she signed on her husband's behalf?

The only person who is allowed to bring up the discrepancy you mention is the party against whom judgment might be entered (in this case, the named landlord whose wife signed on his behalf). He would have to prove that he neither knew nor would be reasonably expected to know that his wife entered a contract on his behalf.

By contrast, the tenant is precluded from bringing up this issue in court. That is because his conduct evidences that he opted to ignore a discrepancy of which he was --or should have been-- aware ever since he himself signed the lease.

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  • Thanks so much for your reply. What case precedents do you have to support this conclusion (NJ)?
    – S.O.S
    Jan 10, 2023 at 23:02
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    By contrast, the tenant is precluded from bringing up this issue in court.. his conduct evidences that he opted to ignore a discrepancy of which he was --or should have been-- aware.. In this case the tenant wants to argue the contract is void. What if both tenants sign the lease & the lease was later signed by landlord's spouse in the presence of only one of the tenants. Could the tenant not present argue that he was not aware that the lease would be signed by the landlord's spouse since did not contain her name when he signed it?
    – S.O.S
    Jan 10, 2023 at 23:09
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    @S.O.S "tenant wants to argue the contract is void." The fact that landlord's spouse is the one who signed is very unlikely to lead to that outcome. The tenant would have to prove that (1) leasing specifically with that landlord or specifically not with the landlord's spouse was a basic assumption under which the tenant entered the lease, and (2) the effect of a discrepancy in that regard is material and adverse. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts at §§153-154. Also living there would defeat tenant's argument. Jan 11, 2023 at 15:33

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