Is an oral contract legal and binding?

Full Question:

If the tenant and landlord have a verbal agreement that the tenant will install new carpet at the termination of the three-year lease does this constitute an oral contract and a legal amendment to the written Rental Agreement under Hawaii law?
01/29/2009   |   Category: Contracts ยป Oral   |   State: Rhode Island   |   #15096


Contracts are agreements that are legally enforceable. A contract may be legally defined as a voluntary, legally enforceable, agreement made by persons with the proper capacity. It should include: 1) an offer; 2) an acceptance; and 3) consideration, or an exchange of value. A contract may be express or implied. A unilateral contract is one in which there is a promise to pay or give other consideration in return for actual performance. A bilateral contract is one in which a promise is exchanged for a promise. A contract is an agreement between two parties that creates an obligation to do or refrain from doing a particular thing. The purpose of a contract is to establish the terms of the agreement by which the parties have fixed their rights and duties.

An oral contract is an agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract may generally be enforced the same as a written agreement. However, it is much more difficult with an oral contract to prove its existence or the terms.

Hawaii requires leases longer than a year to be in writing. Principles of contract law will appply to a lease. Generally, contract law principles will assume that the written contract is the expression of the complete agreement and will not allow evidence of oral (parol) agreements purporting to change, explain or contradict the written document. If changes are made to a lease, they should be made by way of a written amendment to avoid future litigation.

In some cases, a court will apply equitable principles, based on notions of fairness, to avoid a party from being unjustly benefitted. This is a subjective dtermination for the court, based on the facts and circumstances in each case. Promissory estoppel is a term used in contract law that applies where, although there may not otherwise be an enforceable contract, because one party has relied on the promise of the other, it would be unfair not to enforce the agreement. Promissory estoppel arises from a promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forebearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee and which does induce such action or forebearance in binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. Detrimental reliance is a term commonly used to force another to perform their obligations under a contract, using the theory of promissory estoppel. Promissory estoppel may apply when a promise was made; reliance on the promise was reasonable or foreseeable; there was actual and reasonable reliance on the promise; the reliance was detrimental; and injustice can only be prevented by enforcing the promise. Detrimental reliance must be shown to involve reliance that is reasonable, which is a determination made on an individual case-by-case basis, taking all factors into consideration. Detrimental means that some type of harm is suffered. Reasonable reliance is usually referred to as a theory of recovery in contract law. It was what a prudent person might believe and act upon based on something told by another. Sometimes a person acts in reliance on the promise of a profit or other benefit, only to learn that the statements or promises were either incorrect or were exaggerated. The one who acted to their detriment in reasonable reliance may recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance. Reasonable reliance connotes the use of the standard of ordinary and average person.

Ask Legal Question

Your Privacy is 100% Confidential!