Glen Allen, VA asked in Contracts and Real Estate Law for Virginia

Q: I just realized that I put the wrong year on a signed lease. Is the lease voided. What are the terms for the lease?

Tenants signed the lease and have been living in the rental for 3 months. What's my recourse?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Thomas H. Roberts
Thomas H. Roberts
  • Richmond, VA
  • Licensed in Virginia

A: Not really a big deal --- where it is clear that both parties meant and understood the correct year, the court will enforce the lease with the corrected year --- The correction of a scrivener's error is a court-sanctioned action reforming a contract or other document. We note, however, that a court's role in "correcting" documents is limited. The rule is well-settled that a court is not permitted to rewrite a document or add terms not included by the parties. See, e.g., Bentley Funding Group, L.L.C. v. SK&R Group, L.L.C., 269 Va. 315, 330, 609 S.E.2d 49, 56 (2005) (court cannot alter the provisions of or add to the plain language of a contract); Jackson v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 269 Va. 303, 310, 608 S.E.2d 901, 904 (2005) (court determines the intent of the testator from the plain language of the will and cannot add words to the will). A scrivener's error presents an exception to this general rule, because as the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has observed, scrivener's errors "are difficult to prevent, and . . . no useful social purpose is served by enforcing . . . mistaken terms." S.T.S. Transport Service, Inc. v. Volvo White Truck Corp., 766 F.2d 1089, 1093 (7th Cir. 1985). Thus, a change to a document because of a scrivener's error presents a significant exception to a well-established rule, so we must construe that term narrowly. See, e.g., Davis v. Mullins, 251 Va. 141, 149, 466 S.E.2d 90, 94 (1996) (A court's authority to correct a clerical error under Code § 8.01-428(B) should be narrowly construed and applied.).

Westgate at Williamsburg Condo. Ass'n v. Philip Richardson Co., 270 Va. 566, 575, 621 S.E.2d 114, 118 (2005)

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