Many letting agents are now using electronic signatures for the signing of tenancy agreements, but should you trust them? And where do they stand in UK law? Wet signatures have historically always been used, but with modern technology moving at an increasing pace, this new way to provide an agreement to a contract is gaining momentum.
What exactly is a digital signature?
Simply put, it is a way of verifying the receiver agrees or consents to the content of a document, form, or contract. It works by uploading a document to an electronic signature provider, then tagging where the document needs to be signed. The document is then sent to the intended recipient via email, where they sign if happy, and the document is then sent back again. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Behind these systems, there are a number of high-tech security features which make sure that the document you are signing is sent securely and without tampering.
The concept of sending a signature remotely isn’t actually new. The pantelegraph was an early fax transmitting machine which used normal telegraph lines in the 1860s, transmitting handwriting or drawings of the willing participant. The most common use for this contraption was signature verification for banking transactions.
How can electronic signatures be used in the letting industry?
They’re application is obvious – for assured shorthold tenancy agreements they can be used for the tenant and landlord (or agent) to sign the relevant contracts and documents. Just like a wet signature, but digitally.
What are the reservations?
Like any relatively new technology, there can be reservations, and especially when it involves documents which are legally binding. Landlords want to be sure that everything they do is regarded as correct in the eyes of the law, less it come back to bite them. But the Electronic Communications Act 2000, Section 7 (1) addresses this by agreeing that electronic signatures are admissible as evidence to any question about the authenticity of the data.
Also, some would question the security of the digital signature. When you press send, an email leaves your hands and flies out into the big World Wide Web. You can put a paper copy of a contract in your bag, in your safe, or wherever you please. This perceived lack of control is a problem. But many electronic signature providers use advanced standard encryption to make sure your documents are safe, non-searchable on the net, and read by only the intended parties. Indeed, the Department for Trade and Industry argue that they are more secure than their handwritten equivalents.
And these points relate to another matter – do we understand enough about electronic signatures? Their slow take up in the letting industry may well be due to a lack of trust and knowledge, but also a lack of awareness. We always assume a ‘signature’ is a wet mark. But this is changing, just like the way we use digital banking to transfer money instead of writing cheques.
What are the benefits?
Many online letting agents use digital signatures because they recognise the efficiency they bring. A contract can be signed by both parties within hours. What does this mean for you? Well, we all know that quicker letting means quicker money. No sluggish paper trails or waiting for a tenant to source a fax machine (which are quickly dilapidating in population.)
And what about the convenience electronic signatures bring? With paper copies, the landlord or agent would have to print, sign, and fax; and then the tenant would be required to print, sign, and fax. Or alternatively make a trip to the local high street. Didn’t you know people are getting busier and busier?
A digital signature is easy and simple for both tenants and landlords. Once more, by using an online letting agent that utilises this technology, you have all your contracts stored in one secure place without having to store anything. And it’s easy to track and manage.
And then there’s the environment. Although we are dealing with small scale paper-trails in a singular letting process, every little helps.
The electronic signature market is growing, with one leading Chief Marketing Officer believing the industry will be worth $5billion by the end of this decade. They provide a host of benefits that many different transactional industries can profit from, not least the letting industry.
Here at Lets Rent, we provide a comprehensive letting service for landlords that is completely free to use and utilises the latest technology to ensure a quick and easy process. One of these features is the use of electronic signatures, which are used to sign documents that are stored in the landlords’ and tenants’ profile. We use RightSignature, arguably the most trusted and secure providers in the market.
Make up your own mind about electronic signatures, but they bring a host of benefits whilst complying with the law.