Monday, March 2, 2015

It's always good to know what you're signing

I wrote a settlement agreement recently.  The tenant agreed to move out on a certain date, and if he did so, the landlord would forgive all the unpaid rent owed.  As with most of my agreements, the first page hammered the tenant hard, and the second page took it all away if he moved out on time.

After the agreement was signed, we all stood at counsel table and the judge reviewed the terms with the parties, to make sure everyone understood what was expected.  After reciting the terms, the judge questioned the parties:

Judge, to Plaintiff:  "Is what I just said, the agreement you thought you signed?"

Plaintiff:  "Yes."

Judge, to Defendant:  "Is what I just said, the agreement you thought you signed?"

Defendant:  "I do have one question.  If I don't move out on time, does that mean I get arrested?"

Judge:  "Where did you get that idea?  Counsel [looking at me], is that what you told him?"

Me:  "No, Your Honor.  I told him that if he didn't move out on time, he would owe all the money and the Sheriff would come out and evict him."

Defendant:  "No, she didn't tell me I'd be arrested.  But I just moved here from Las Vegas, and I don't know how things work here."

Judge, with raised eyebrows:  "Is that how they do things in Las Vegas?"

Defendant:  "I don't know.  I've never been evicted before."

Judge:  "Here in California, no one gets arrested for not moving out on time.  You'll get evicted, not arrested."

Defendant:  "Good.  I've never been arrested before, either."

Despite my explanation, and the judge's explanation, the tenant still thought he signed an agreement to be arrested if he didn't comply with the terms.  If I was the Defendant and that's what I thought it said, I would have NEVER signed it!

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