When Language and Leasing Agreements Collide

Imagine a Haitian couple walking into an apartment leasing office.  While both speak French as their native language, they cannot read, write nor understand English. They are thinking about leasing an apartment for 6 to 12 months. When the leasing agent approaches the couple it is apparent that they might be interested in leasing a 2-bedroom apartment even though they cannot communicate their plans. But how does the leasing agent really know what the couple is thinking?  Additionally, how does the leasing agent even know if the couple is interested in a 1-,2- or 3-bedroom apartment; what floor they would like to live on, whether or not they want covered parking; where on the property they want to live; the amenities they require and what price range is appealing to them?

Today, more than ever, a large and growing non-English speaking market exists in America with strong credit ratings and buying power to pass credit checks and be approved for leases.  In order to cater to the growing market of non-English speaking renters, property management firms must be willing to hire professional translation services and communicate with them in a legally responsible way.  Past failures to accommodate the legal requirements of non-English speakers have led to a noticeable increase in lawsuits that typically involve claims of breach of contract, misrepresentation, fraud and violations of various consumer protection laws by the property management firm and their leasing agents.

According to experienced legal translation workers, while non-English speaking renters have a personal responsibility to comprehend the contracts that they endorse and execute, many states do not require the use of a language other than English.  However, most properties codes state that property management companies and their agents have a duty to make sure that non-English speaking customers understand the contract’s terms and conditions.  If they cannot understand the agreement that they are entering into, they may be entitled to rescission of the contract and other damages.