Phil Querin Q&A: Applicant Qualifies, Moves In, Does not Sign Rental Agreement

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September 18, 2013

Question: Earlier this summer an applicant applied for residency. He met our screening criteria and we sent a letter indicating that he had been accepted. The applicant lives out of town and started sending rent checks but did not sign the rental agreement. There were also repairs that we indicated to him that he needed to make before he could move in. At this point he has title to the home, refuses to sign the rental agreement and we refuse to cash his checks. What should we do?

Answer: First and foremost, send the checks back as soon as they come in. Do not hold onto them, as there is Oregon case law saying that doing so for an unreasonable amount of time can constitute acceptance. Include a letter with the checks reiterating what you told him about the necessity of the repairs and the need to sign the rental agreement. I hope the nature of the repairs and the amount of time he has to complete them are a part of the rental agreement. IF not they should be. The only real way to enforce this requirement is to make the repairs a written condition of the tenancy. Do not accept any rent from him unless and until the tenant has signed the rental agreement and it contains an explicit description of the work he is to do and a completion date. If he takes possession without having signed a written rental agreement, you may give him a 24-hour notice to terminate under ORS 90.403. The statute contemplates an improper subleasing arrangement which is not the case here. However, in all respects, it should work, since his possession is unauthorized and in possession without a signed rental agreement. Make sure that you use the proper form of notice, as this is not the same situation as giving a 24-hour notice for outrageous conduct under ORS 90.396. Alternatively, if you have rules in the community that prohibit occupancy without a written rental agreement, you could issue a 30-day notice under ORS 90.630(1)(b). That way, if he cured by signing the rental agreement (with the repair provision in it) he could stay. This second alternative, though more time consuming, gives him a chance to come into compliance before having to vacate.

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