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Perhaps you live in Atlanta and your landlord hasn't been keeping up with pest control efforts and your apartment is overrun with ants. Maybe a tenant in your Marietta apartment complex hasn't paid their $50 per month pet fee for their dog -- which barks at all hours of the night. Is taking them to court the only way to deal with the issue?
Whether you're a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Georgia landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.
A common component of most lease agreements in Georgia is the security deposit. Landlords typically charge the amount of one month's rent for a security deposit, though Georgia law doesn't enforce a cap on how much they may charge. The deposit is placed into an escrow account by the landlord where it accrues interest. The landlord may use the deposit to pay for unpaid rent and to repair rental property damages beyond normal wear and tear.
The landlord is required to return the full amount or the remainder of the deposit to the tenant within 30 days from the lease's termination. However, landlords are not required to surrender any accrued interest. If the landlord had to use any amount of the deposit to make repairs or pay for unpaid rent, they must submit a written notice of the charges to the tenant within those 30 days. (See the Official Code of Georgia, Title 44, Chapter 7, Article 2 for more information.)
The lease agreement may be terminated in either of two ways: by the leasing term's natural expiration (i.e. at the end of a one-year lease) or by the landlord or tenant breaking the lease's terms. The written lease will dictate the particular grounds and any penalties for termination.
A tenant can break their lease by neglecting to uphold their responsibilities as detailed in the lease, such as paying rent in a timely manner, keeping the rental property clean and in good condition and obeying property rules and state or local laws. Likewise, a tenant may be able to break their lease early on more reputable grounds like transferring to another city for a job.
A landlord can break the lease by neglecting to uphold their responsibilities, too, such as responding to maintenance requests and offering the same services to all tenants.
In any situation where the lease will be terminated early, both parties must abide by the terms of the lease and Georgia's laws. Whichever party wants to terminate the lease must provide no less than 30 days' written notice to the other party of their intent to end the lease. In many cases, tenants wishing to terminate early must pay an early termination fee, which usually amounts to one month's rent.
Georgia prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on characteristics that are protected by the state's Fair Housing Act. Specific actions like falsely telling tenants that a rental property is unavailable may be considered discriminatory if the landlord does these things because of a tenant's:
The lease agreement is the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship. It is a legally binding contract detailing the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:
While many landlord-tenant conflicts can be resolved without going to court, the laws involved in these conflicts are complex. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has provided a Landlord Tenant Handbook with frequently asked questions about Georgia's landlord-tenant laws. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified landlord tenant lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local landlord tenant attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.