Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Georgia, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Georgia law to make reasonable effort to rerent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out of a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the notice requirements in Georgia to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Georgia
In Georgia, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Tenants are required to provide notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 60 days’ notice if the landlord is giving notice; 30 days’ notice if the tenant is giving notice. (O.C.G.A. § 44-7-7)
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 60 days’ notice if the landlord is giving notice; 30 days’ notice if the tenant is giving notice. (O.C.G.A. § 44-7-7)
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Georgia
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Georgia without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.
1. Early Termination Clause
Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).
If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.
2. Active Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.
To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:
- Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty
- Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days
- Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / PCS or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.
With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So for example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).
According to GA Code § 44-7-22, the term “servicemember” means an active duty member of the regular or reserve component of the United States armed forces, the United States Coast Guard, the Georgia National Guard, or the Georgia Air National Guard on ordered federal duty.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Georgia is no different.
If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant. And if the repairs/fixes are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under Georgia landlord-tenant law.
4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation
If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.
- Landlord entry. Georgia law does not implicitly provide a landlord, with or without notice, the right to enter the premises (unless in case of emergency). With that said, language in the lease agreement may be provided to outline terms that would allow for a landlord to enter the property (usually with a certain amount of notice, i.e. 24 hours).
- Changing the locks. If the locks are changed by a landlord without the tenant’s permission or without the protection of specific language in the lease agreement, this can qualify as being “constructively evicted”, and could relieve the tenant of their duties of the lease.
5. Domestic Violence
As of 2018, Georgia finally joined other states in passing a bill that allows victims of domestic violence to terminate their lease early (House Bill 834, which became § 44-7-23). The following conditions have to be met in order to qualify for this condition:
- The lease must have been started, extended or made on July 1, 2018, or later.
- The victim must have a civil or criminal family violence order such as a 12-month Temporary Protective Order (TPO) or bond conditions that state the abuser is not allowed to have contact with the victim.
- The victim must provide written notice of termination to the landlord (example, see pages 8-10), accompanied by a certified copy of the applicable civil or criminal family violence order.
As with lease termination under the SCRA for active military duty, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So for example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Georgia
The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.
- They bought a house
- They are relocating for a new job or school
- They are upgrading or downgrading
- They are moving in with a partner
- They are moving to be closer to family
Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in other states but are not applicable in Georgia:
- Violation of the lease agreement. If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period).
- Illegal contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable.
- Mandatory disclosures. Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Disclosure laws typically impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. In rare cases, they contain penalty provisions that may allow you to break your lease.
- Senior citizen or health issue. Some states offer age or health-related lease-breaking arrangements that permit early lease termination.
Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Rerent in Georgia
Georgia state law does not require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Georgia
If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you are in the clear to do so. However, your lease might contain a clause requiring you to obtain your landlord’s approval prior to subletting.
To get your landlord’s approval, you will want to send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept in case you need to prove that you notified your landlord.