Understanding Georgia Rental Laws

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Landlord/tenant relationships are prone to dispute. For that reason, each state outlines the means of resolving these disputes and the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants. On top of this, there are federal laws that outline the civil rights of those who are searching for housing. These are known as anti-discrimination laws and they are legislated at the federal, state, and even city level.

In this article, we will discuss everything landlords and tenants need to be aware of when it comes to rent laws that pertain to the State of Georgia.

> Anti-Discrimination Laws
Exceptions to Fair Housing Laws in Georgia
> First Qualified Applicant
> Georgia State Laws Regarding Landlord-Tenant Relationships
> Georgia State Laws Regarding Security Deposits
> Georgia Statutes Regarding Rent
> Georgia Statutes Regarding Lease Agreements and Terms
Georgia Statutes Regarding Eviction
Landlord Access to the Apartment
Landlord Responsibilities to the Tenant
Landlord Disclosures
Helpful Links for Landlords and Tenants

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

At the federal level, the Fair Housing Act also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits refusing to rent to a tenant on the basis of their:

  • Race or color,
  • Religion or creed,
  • National origin,
  • Familial status,
  • Sex or gender,
  • Or disability.

In addition, it prohibits discriminatory language in rental applications, telling a prospective tenant that a rental unit is already rented when it is not, or providing different lease terms based on a protected characteristic.

For instance, a landlord may not charge a tenant an added security deposit based on the presence of children. In addition, a landlord may not deny amenities to a tenant based on their race or color. Nor may a landlord segregate tenants on the basis of race or any other protected characteristic.

Lastly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) stipulates that a landlord may not deny an individual with a disability “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that they can access the property. This includes waiving a no-pets policy to allow a service animal on the premises.

Service animals, by law, are not considered pets. They provide a specified medical service to their owner and denying a tenant’s application on the basis of a no-pets policy when they have a legitimate service animal is against the law. On the other hand, a landlord is entitled to ask for proof that the prospective tenant requires a service animal. Furthermore, “therapy animals” or “emotional support animals” are not considered service animals by law.

Georgia Anti-Discrimination Laws

While some states expand on the Fair Housing Act in different ways, Georgia does not. However, lawsuits can be brought against a landlord on the basis of housing discrimination at either the state or federal level.

If you, as a tenant, believe you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint with HUD.

Exceptions to Fair Housing Laws in Georgia

Most, but not all, landlords are required to abide by the rules set forth in the federal and State of Georgia Fair Housing Acts. Those who do not may have complaints filed against them. This could lead to both civil and administrative penalties against the landlord. However, some landlords are exempt from fair housing rules. If a landlord meets any of the following conditions, a tenant may not pursue a cause of action against them. These include:

  • The owner owns three or fewer single-family homes;
  • The owner rents the property without the use of an agent or a sales broker;
  • Or the owner resides in a building which has four or fewer rental units.

If the owner advertises the rental property, the language of the advertisement must not be discriminatory.

The First Qualified Applicant

In order to avoid the appearance of discriminatory judgment, the owner should accept the first qualified applicant. There are legitimate reasons for denying a potential applicant. These can include poor credit history or a history of evictions.

Georgia State Laws Regarding Landlord-Tenant Relationships

Laws pertinent to landlord-tenant relationships can be found in:

Georgia State Laws Regarding Security Deposits

Georgia laws regarding security deposits can be found in OCGA § 44-7 30-37.

The State of Georgia does not place a limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. On the other hand, there are several restrictions in place regarding how the security deposit is kept and when it must be returned.

Under Georgia law, a landlord has 30 days after the tenant has moved out to return the security deposit. The security deposit can not be used to cover the costs of ordinary wear and tear. In addition, the landlord must give the tenant an itemized list of damages for any deductions he or she makes. The landlord must return the remainder of the deposit with the list of damages to the tenant. The deposit may be held for non-payment of rent or late fees as well (44-7-34).

The landlord does not have to place the deposit in an interest-bearing account but does have to open up a second account to hold the deposit in escrow. The landlord must also notify the tenant as to where the deposit is being held (44-7-31). Alternatively, the landlord may post a surety bond in the amount of the lesser of $50,000 or all the security deposits the landlord holds (44-7-32).

In addition, a landlord may charge pet fees, application fees, or other fees, but they can not be a part of the security deposit (44-7-30).

If the landlord fails to comply with this process or otherwise acts in bad faith, the landlord will forfeit any right to the security deposit. If the landlord is found to have operated in bad faith, the court will award the tenant three times the value of the security deposit plus the tenant’s attorney’s fees (44-7-36).

Georgia Statutes Regarding Rent

Georgia has no limits on the cost of rent and, in fact, prohibits local governments by statute from enacting policies that control the price of rent (44-7-19). In addition, there are no regulations as to when rent is due, grace periods for overdue rent, or late fees. Landlords are advised to specify these in the lease agreement.

Georgia Statutes Regarding Lease Agreements and Terms

Again, Georgia has few regulations regarding lease agreements or terms. Landlords are free to establish any terms they please, provided that they are within the bounds of the law and operate in good faith and tenants are free to accept or reject those terms. Landlords can charge application fees and may require tenants to submit to a criminal background check or a credit check.

There are some provisions in a lease agreement that are not enforceable under Georgia law. Those include:

  • The landlord may not put a provision in the lease that waives their own responsibility to provide the tenant with a habitable domicile;
  • The landlord may not put a provision in the lease that forces the tenant to pay their legal fees if they feel there has been a violation of the lease, however, the landlord may recover attorney’s if they win an action against the tenant;
  • The landlord may not waive their own responsibility to abide by local ordinances;
  • The landlord may not put provisions in the lease that allows them to waive compliance with the security deposit found in § 44-7 30-37;
  • The landlord may not put terms in the lease that enable themselves to evict a tenant without going through the legal court-established process.

This information can be found on page 6 of the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook.

Georgia Statutes Governing the Termination of Lease

If a tenant chooses to terminate a month-to-month lease, they must give the landlord 30 days notice. If the landlord chooses to terminate a month-to-month lease, they must give the tenant 60 days notice (47-7-7). This remains true for any “tenancy at will” (meaning a tenancy with no fixed end date).

Georgia Statutes Regarding Eviction

Georgia statutes regarding terminating a lease for either non-payment or a violation of the terms of the lease can be found in § 44-7-49 through § 44-7-59. In addition, you can find information on evictions in the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook (p15-17).

If the landlord has terms in the lease for non-payment or how lease violations are handled, they must abide by those provisions absolutely so long as they do not violate the law. A landlord may terminate a lease immediately for non-payment. The specific procedure for doing so looks something like this:

  • Notify the tenant in writing that the lease is terminated for non-payment;
  • Specify the tenant’s names, the amount owed, and ensure that the notice is signed and dated;
  • If a landlord posts it on the tenant’s door, they should take a picture to prove that the tenant was served the notice as this is a valid defense to an eviction;
  • Demand that the rental unit be surrendered within a reasonable amount of time.

The landlord has the option of either accepting payment for the delinquent amount of rent owed or refusing payment and proceeding with the eviction. If the landlord accepts payment, the tenant has a legal defense to the eviction and the eviction proceedings will be dismissed. The landlord must, therefore, refuse any rent tendered by the tenant.

After the landlord has served the tenant with notice, they will file a dispossessory notice with the county court in which the property is rented. This is technically an affidavit, so it must be done under oath. Once this notice is filed, the landlord may no longer accept rent from the tenant.

The dispossessory notice is then delivered (in person) to the tenant by either the county sheriff or by some other means. It can also be tacked onto the door.

The tenant will need to respond to the notice and, if they can, offer a legal defense to why the eviction is illegal or invalid. Claims can include an unwillingness to make repairs, that the rental unit was not habitable or that the landlord, in some other way, failed in their responsibility to the tenant.

Afterward, the tenant’s response will be considered by the court. The court will render a decision on the tenant’s defense and determine whether or not it is legally valid. If this has not taken place within two weeks, the tenant will need to pay the court for past due rent and future rent as it is owed.

Landlords may not shut off utilities or lock tenants out of the rental unit; this is punishable by up to a $500 fine and the tenant may be able to collect damages.

There are specific guidelines for terminating the lease of an active service member. They can be found in § 44-7-22.

Landlord Access to the Apartment

Tenants are entitled to privacy and the quiet enjoyment of the rental unit. However, there are no statutes determining how much notice a landlord must give to the tenant before entry. It is recommended that the landlord give the tenant at least 24 hours notice.

Landlord Responsibilities to the Tenant

Rental units are rented under an implied warranty of habitability. This means that the landlord has certain responsibilities to the tenant. The unit must be kept in good repair with functioning heat, plumbing, electricity, and running water.

There is no statute on whether the tenant may withhold rent or repair the damage and deduct rent, but uninhabitable premises are a defense to eviction.

Landlord Disclosures

Landlords must disclose the presence of lead paint on the premises and whether or not the home is in foreclosure (Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook p18-19). In addition, the landlord must inform the tenant if the property has a propensity toward flooding (§ 44-7-20).

This blog entry is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Landlords and Tenants are encouraged to seek specific legal advice for any of the issues as found in this blog.

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