While many landlords and tenants would never dream of becoming party to a lease without a well-crafted written lease agreement, the question is often posed whether or not a lease can be entered into though only a verbal agreement. It may difficult to conceive of many situations where a landlord and tenant would both find it in their long-term best interests to enter into a lease without solidifying the terms in writing, verbal agreements can be considered legally binding in California, provided they meet certain conditions.
The only verbal lease agreements considered legally binding in the State of California are those which last less than one year. Beyond this restriction, if the term of a lease is less than one year, but the end of the term is more than one year from the date of verbal agreement, the agreement must be put in writing. While the law does grant this small leniency for short-term verbal lease agreements, it is noted that for clarity and the safety of all parties involved, it strongly advised that all lease agreements be established in writing.
If, for instance, a tenant enters into a verbal agreement for a term of 10 months, the law will technically allow for this verbal agreement to stand on its own. However, if the verbal agreement is made for a term of 10 months, but the actual tenancy is not to begin for more than two months after the agreement (exceeding the one-year allowance), this agreement must be put in writing to be considered valid. Also, if the lease becomes unenforceable and the tenant enters into possession, the tenant then becomes a tenant-at-will.
Lease agreements are generally far too complex to be responsibly entered into with only a verbal agreement, with too many factors that could lead to unwanted outcomes for both the landlord and tenant to warrant the risk. If you have found yourself in a complicated lease conflict, the guidance of an experienced attorney can help resolve the matter fairly while protecting your rights.
Source: Ca.gov, "Chapter 9 - Landlord and tenant," accessed July 21, 2016