Thomas McCutcheon

Q: My son moved into a house that had been vacant and needed a lot of work.  The owners said that if he would fix it up, he would not have to pay the rent for a while.  No papers were signed and after he did all the work they asked him to move.  What can he do?

Bill, Sheffield, AL  

A: “An agreement that is not in writing is not worth the paper it is not written on.”

Trading work for rent or a down payment must be in writing.  The very existence of an agreement, the value of the work as well as the amount of the rent are all subject to dispute.   This type of dispute in court is costly, often more than the value of the work or rent and so easily avoided.  

Without a written agreement, how is the value of the improvement determined?

The work may not be to the liking of the property owner or some work may need to be redone.  Some people might even decide to say they don’t like it even if they do just to try and get a better deal. 

Writing down who selects the paint, who pays for it and for how long rent is abated in exchange for the work over a signature simplifies matters. 

Keep in mind that written agreements have both legal significance and moral weight.  People are not as inclined to dispute what they agreed to in writing.  There is no need to be overly complicated.  This type of agreement can be simple.  “Smith agrees to paint the interior of the house at 123 Maple Street and Jones agrees he shall owe no rent for April, May and June.  The painting shall be completed by the end of April and rent shall resume July 1.”  Sign and date.

Judges are called on to decide disputes and that is certainly in their job description.  Make the judge’s job easier by writing, signing and dating.  

Buckle up, drive safely and as always your referrals are appreciated! 256-764-0112


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