No Winners: Witness Signatures Count
Formalities associated with executing a legal document do matter, and as a landlord recently discovered, one could win the battle, but lose the war on this issue. The case involved a flawed office lease. While Florida Statutes require that any conveyance of real property have two witnesses, this lease didn’t have any witness signatures for either the landlord or the tenant. When the landlord realized he could rent the space to a different tenant willing to pay more rent, he decided to invalidate the lease which had already been in place for two years, telling the existing tenant that the signatures on the lease were not witnessed, so it had no valid lease.
The tenant raised a number of arguments, including the fact that the landlord could have cured this technical deficiency of missing witness signatures at any time. The tenant went on to say that it had waited for this prime location and shouldn’t now be displaced because of what it believed was an oversight. The appellate court ended up splitting the baby, ruling that the lease could be invalidated but also finding that the landlord couldn’t profit from its own mistakes. The landlord could remove the tenant, but the tenant could then proceed with its case for damages against the landlord.