Is Texting Binding

(WSVN) - If you own a cell phone, you probably text to say ‘Hi’ to a friend, make an appointment, and in some cases, make a deal. So now the question — is a text a binding contract? It’s why one South Florida business owner contacted Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

In real estate, they like to joke the three keys are location, location, location…

In owning a small business, it’s no joke. The three keys are work, work and more hard work.

Jill Morales, JJ Landscaping: “It’s a mom and pop landscaping, paving company. We’ve been in business for about three years.”

Jill and her husband own JJ Landscaping doing landscaping of course, and also driveways.

Jill Morales: “Our work is guaranteed. We have a plethora of references and recommendations.”

Recently, a woman who they do yard work for asked them to take care of her father’s driveway.

Jill Morales: “The job was pretty much to go in and correct her parent’s driveway that was ruined or stained by the previous paving company they had hired.”

Jill and the daughter exchanged many text messages over a few days to apply stripper to the driveway. The daughter wrote it also needed sealing and repairs. Jill went to look at the driveway where she says the father decided he didn’t want the driveway sealed.

Jill Morales: “He said, ‘No, there is no reason to have it resealed. I just want to get these stains up and pressure wash.'”

Jill then sent a text to that daughter that said they would apply the stripper and pressure wash it for $1,200. There was no mention of sealing the driveway. A crew was then sent to do the work.

Jill Morales: “We get there, the guys start, we didn’t request the deposit. We trusted them.”

That would be a mistake. From the air, you can see Jill’s crew did the job. She then asked for her $1,200.

Jill Morales: “And the daughter says the sealer wasn’t applied.”

Jill replied in a text “your dad did not want the driveway re-sealed.” And the $1,200 price didn’t include sealant anyway, but the father and his daughter still refused to pay.

Jill Morales: “I don’t know how somebody can do that to an honest company and still have a good night sleep.”

Well Howard, there is no written agreement, just a lot of texts back and forth. Legally, do texts make a binding contract?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Jill definitely gets paid for the work. The question is how much. And by that, I mean, in their texts back and forth, they talk about sealing the driveway, but the final text from Jill with the quote never mentions the sealant. She also says the father didn’t want the driveway sealed, but the daughter says she did in prior texts. So if a judge had to go through those texts and make a ruling, they could reduce the amount owed or give Jill the entire $1,200.”

We talked to the father and daughter. Both hung up on us. Then later, the daughter called us and said it wasn’t about the sealant, she didn’t like the quality of the job. She then offered to pay a portion of the $1,200 but never did that. And once again, is not answering our calls or texts.

Howard Finkelstein: “I think this is obvious. Don’t do back and forth texting to create a contract. You want to put everything the job includes in one place … one piece of paper, one email and both sides clearly have to agree to it. That lessens the chance of disputs, confusion and lawsuits.”

Inside the gated community where the father lives, $1,200 may not be a big deal, but that money is for Jill.

Jill Morales: “Twelve-hundred dollars is a lot of money for us. We are not this huge, huge corporation out there.”

Bottom line — while it’s best to finalize a deal in writing, some people are going to do it in texts. If you are going to use texts as the contract, put all the details in one text. And make sure the other person texts back “I agree to that.” Otherwise it could turn into a mess, and we will keep an eye on this and let you know if the father and daughter listens to Howard and pays Jill.

Don’t like the way the landscape around you is looking? Want that mess to be stripped away from you? Drive it our way. Hopefully we can pave the way for you to seal the deal.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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