Did you know Stevie Wonder was giving some pretty good legal advice when he wrote: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours?”
Apparently, the Virginia Supreme Court thinks so too. Recently, the Court held that a 15-year lease was unenforceable against the lessee for the term because it was not “sealed.”
Sealing an instrument involves putting on a wax impression after a signature. The practice dates back hundreds of years to England and was used to indicate the importance and solemnity of the transaction.
Virginia law still requires a “seal” for real property conveyances, including leases with terms greater than five years. Requirements have relaxed somewhat by permitting alternatives such as a “scroll” instead of a wax impression, like the word “(SEAL)” after a signature. It also recognizes the words “this deed” or “this indenture” in the body of the instrument as a substitute.
In the case mentioned above, without a seal or seal substitute, the Court refused to enforce the lease even though the lessee had occupied the property and paid for many years. Instead, it said that while other parts of the lease were enforceable, the term was not, and would be treated as month-to-month. The landlord had a judgment of over $85,000 taken away.
For those who do not think the law has enough bright-line rules, here is one that could end up costing an unsuspecting landlord a bundle. Make sure your real property instruments are not only signed and delivered, but also “Sealed!”
If you have any questions about real property issues or other matters, please contact one of our experienced litigators, Francis H. (Chip) Casola (540) 983-7716 or Christopher W. Stevens (540) 983-7538.