Legal Effect of Signed Lease
A written lease becomes a binding contract when both parties -- tenant and landlord -- sign the agreement. In some states, landlord-tenant laws require a signed lease for a rental arrangement that the parties intend to have last for at least one year. The signed lease reflects the terms of the agreement between the landlord and tenant. If either party fails to meet the obligations required by the lease, such as the tenant's payment of rent or the landlord's upkeep of the property, the other party can take legal action based on the lease. When the lease doesn't include the landlord's signature, it might be more difficult for a tenant to enforce the terms of the agreement.
Implied Signature of Landlord
A tenant might lack a lease with the landlord's signature if the tenant signed first and provided a copy to the landlord but didn't receive a completed, signed copy in return. Some states' landlord-tenant laws include provisions to imply a landlord's acceptance of the lease terms under specified circumstances. A landlord might imply signature of an agreement by accepting a tenant's rent payments or by allowing a tenant to take residence in a rental property. Under these circumstances, a lease without the landlord's signature may still be valid and legally binding in the event of a dispute. As each state has established its own landlord-tenant statutes, a tenant should research the laws of her own state to determine her rights under an unsigned lease.
If a landlord and tenant don't have a binding, written lease due to the landlord's missing signature, the parties still might have an oral lease. This can form when a landlord and tenant negotiate a rental arrangement. When the parties carry out the terms of an oral lease by paying and accepting rent on a regularly established basis, they might have a binding agreement even without one party's signature; however, a tenant might have trouble enforcing a specific term in a lease if the landlord isn't bound by a written agreement. States' landlord-tenant laws determine a tenant's rights if the landlord decides to end an oral lease. The landlord or tenant may need to provide a specific period of notice, which generally extends for one regular period in between rent payments, before ending the lease arrangement.
Some states recognize a tenancy-at-will rather than establish a oral lease when one or both parties haven't signed a written agreement. A tenancy-at-will depends on the tenant paying rent at regular intervals as agreed upon by both parties. For example, the landlord might require payment of rent on a specific day of every month. As with oral leases, termination of the rental arrangement requires advance notice lasting for at least one complete period between rent payments. Tenancy-at-will might require specific procedures if a landlord wants to initiate an eviction without a written lease.