In Georgia, leases and rental agreements may be written or verbal, and in some cases, they may even be implied. It is important to know this because whenever there is a lease, there are certain rights under Georgia Law (GA Code Title 44 Chapter 7) that attach to the landlord and the tenant, respectively, without the need to include them in a lease.
For example, the tenant automatically has the right to a fit premises and to have it maintained by the landlord in good repair. The landlord, on the other hand, has the right to prompt payment of rent and interest thereon if the tenant fails to pay on time.
There are a few more of these rights for both the tenant and the landlord under the statutes. Also, please check with your local Georgia county and municipality for additional rules and protections for both landlords and tenants.
Warranty of Habitability in Georgia
Landlord Responsibilities. Landlords in Georgia are responsible for maintaining several state-mandated health and safety standards, most of which are summed up in the state’s “warranty of habitability.” These standards focus on the following amenities, which must be provided and maintained in working order for a rentable space to be considered “habitable”:
- Sanitation facilities
- Safe electrical wiring, outlets, and wiring
- Smoke detectors
Georgia landlords may also optionally provide an AC unit to their tenants. If this is done, the landlord must maintain it in working order like the unit’s other mandatory amenities.
Generally speaking, this warranty of habitability only applies to single- and multi-family dwellings, as well as condos. However, these standards may also be applied to mobile homes in which the home itself and the property it sits upon are owned by the same individual or group.
Tenants in Georgia may request repairs to any of the amenities listed above. After this kind of request is filed, their landlord must make those repairs in a “reasonable” amount of time. Georgia state law does not define reasonable in this instance, but it is implied to be based upon the urgency of the issue at hand. In any case, landlords that fail to make these necessary repairs may provide their tenant with just cause to break off their lease.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in Georgia are responsible for keeping their rented space “clean,” to the extent that it does not pose a risk for harm or physical obstruction to other tenants. If an issue arises that violates this cleanliness standard, a Georgia landlord may request (in writing) that their tenant fix the issue promptly. Though the state does not define how long the tenant has to remedy the issue, it does indicate that failure to do so may result in charges against their security deposit or eviction.
Currently, Georgia tenants are not able to take any kind of so-called “alternative action” against their landlord if they fail to fix an essential amenity. This means that Georgia tenants can neither withhold rent, nor perform a “repair and deduct” process to resolve the issue on their own.
Evictions in Georgia
Landlords in Georgia must typically provide a reason for evicting one or more of their tenants. The following are several of the most common reasons this punitive action may be taken and supported under state law:
- Nonpayment of rent – After any relevant grace period concludes, a Georgia landlord may provide a Notice to Pay to their non-paying tenant. If that tenant is then unable to pay within the next day, their landlord may choose to pursue formal eviction by filing a Dispossessory Proceeding.
- Violation of lease terms – When a lease provision violation is noted by a Georgia landlord, they may request that the tenant immediately remedy the situation. Because Georgia state law does not mandate that the landlord provide any certain amount of time to allow for this remedy, a landlord may choose to proceed with a formal eviction within as few as 24 hours.
- Illegal Acts – Georgia state law allows landlords to evict their tenants for participating in any and all illegal behaviors (even if they do not put other tenants at risk). In these situations, Georgia landlords are empowered to handle the prospect of eviction as they would with other lease violations. As such, a tenant who performs an illegal act may be forced into eviction in as few as 24 hours.
Evictions without a lease. In Georgia, tenants who are renting without an active lease on a month-to-month basis are entitled to a full 60 days of advance notice if their landlord intents to evict them. However, if this kind of lease-less agreement is set on fixed terms, the landlord is required to wait until the end of that term to evict their tenant. In these cases, no amount of advance notice is required.
In either case, tenants who fail to vacate the premises after the end of the required notice period may be subject to a legal eviction after their landlord files a Dispossessory Proceeding with a local court.
Illegal Evictions. Landlords in Georgia are prohibited from proceeding with certain kinds of evictions, particularly when the motives for set eviction are discriminatory in nature. As such, tenants in Georgia cannot be forced to vacate their rented unit if they believe that their landlord is targeting them based upon one or more protected class traits (including race, sex, disability, and more).
Currently, Georgia law does not expressly prohibit landlords from evicting tenants in a retaliatory manner. As such, tenants who join a tenant union may be forced into an eviction, as are tenants who report health or safety code violations.
Security Deposits in Georgia
Georgia landlords are required to follow these statutory limitations and guidelines when it comes to requiring tenants to pay a security deposit:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Currently, Georgia does not limit how much a landlord can charge a tenant as a security deposit. This includes supplementary “deposits” that may be placed for pets.
- Interest and Maintenance – Georgia landlords are required to place any and all security deposit funds into an escrow account. The banking institution where this account is maintained must then be provided to applicable tenant. Alternatively, a landlord may post a surety bond equal to the value of the deposit in the county where the applicable property exists.
- Time Limit for Return – 30 days after a rental unit is reclaimed by a Georgia landlord (either through termination or eviction), that landlord must return any and all security deposits owed to the applicable tenant. This includes instances where dedications are warranted. In that case, a written explanation of deductions, as well as any remaining funds, must also be provided in this 30 day time frame.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Georgia landlord fails to return all remaining security deposits in the statutory time frame, they may become liable to pay up to three times the original deposit’s value as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Georgia landlords may make justifiable dedications from a tenant’s security deposit for any of the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent or late rent payment
- Abandonment of the premises
- Nonpayment of allotted utilities
- Unpaid pet fees
- Cleaning by third parties
Lease Termination in Georgia
Notice Requirements. Notice requirements prior to a lease termination differ for tenants and landlords in Georgia. To that end, landlords are required to provide 60 days of advance notice before terminating a lease, regardless of if that lease was on month-to-month or yearly terms. Tenants, on the other hand, only need to give 30 days’ advance notice in both situations.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. To break off a lease early in Georgia, most tenants resort to utilizing an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, not all landlords include this kind of provision. As such, a tenant may also choose to utilize one of these following state-protected provisions for legally breaking a lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Landlords must upkeep the health and safety of their rented units, even when they are occupied. Often, this comes in the form of making repairs to essential amenities at a tenant’s request. If they fail to do this, their tenant may consider themselves “constructively evicted,” which allows them to immediately terminate their lease on health or safety grounds.
- Landlord Harassment – Landlords may not abuse any right of entry provided to them in their lease agreement. If such a pattern of behavior takes place, a tenant may consider it harassment that represents a violation of the lease’s terms. If such a violation is justified, then they may immediately terminate the lease unconditionally.
- Domestic Violence – Georgia recently added statewide provisions that allows domestic abuse victims to terminate their lease after providing their landlord with certain kinds of proof regarding their status as a victim. The tenant requesting a lease termination can only do so 30 days after the next rental period after they deliver the appropriate documentation. These provisions only apply to leases initiated or updated after 2018, however.
After breaking off a lease using one of these legal provisions, a tenant in Georgia may still be liable to pay rent for the remainder of their lease if a new tenant is not signed on to a sublease. Landlords in Georgia are not legally compelled to seek out new renters in a timely manner, either, so it is imperative for tenants in Georgia to know their financial obligations before finalizing a lease termination.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Georgia
Rent control & increases. Georgia currently has little in the way of statutory standards relating to rent price. Specifically, the state’s las effectively prohibit local “rent control” policies at this time. Because the state also lacks a statutory requirement to inform tenants of impending rent increases, landlords in Georgia are effectively free to raise the rent when they want and by however much they want without justification.
Rent related fees. Georgia also places very few limitations on what landlords can charge in terms of common rent-related fees. This includes late fees, for which the state lacks a statutory limit on per instance value. However, returned check fees in Georgia are statutorily limited in value. They cannot exceed $30 or 5% of the check’s value (whichever is greater).
Housing Discrimination in Georgia
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. At this time, Georgia does not provide current and prospective tenants with any additional protections based upon immutable characteristics. However, in practice, the state’s Department of Community Affairs (who handles housing discrimination complaints) may provide protections for non-statutorily protected individuals on a case by case basis.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. In Georgia, landlords and tenants alike can turn to the state’s Department of Community Affairs to learn about what practices may be considered discriminatory if they are directed at a protected class of people. These activities include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Falsely denying availability of a housing unit
- Offering differing terms, conditions, or privileges in a lease agreement
- Refusing to engage in certain brokerage activities
- Threatening, coercing, or intimidating tenants into forgoing a fair housing right
- Refusing to accept reasonable accommodations requested by a tenant
- “Steering” prospective tenants into living in certain neighborhoods
Currently, the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity handles reports of landlord discrimination on a case by case basis. As such, they do not publish specific penalties for landlords that are found to be utilizing discriminatory business practices. Those wishing to make a report can follow the steps listed here.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Georgia
Georgia’s landlord-tenant laws also include provisions for the following important topics. Among others, these issues covered below are among the most likely to be the subject of dispute during a leasing relationship.
Landlord Entry. Georgia’s landlord entry laws are structured such that they are entitled to a right of entry, but only under the terms set forth in the applicable lease agreement. As such, landlords and tenants are free to establish how much (if any) notice is required before a landlord enters an occupied unit. These agreements must also set forth what justifications a landlord may use to enter, including to make repairs or show the unit to a prospective renter.
This customizable right of entry also extends to emergency situations, though landlords are implied to be allowed to enter without notice during emergencies by default. Should a landlord abuse this or any other written agreement relating to their entry, a tenant may use it as evidence of landlord harassment that is worthy of breaking off a lease early.
Small Claims Court. Georgia’s small claims court handles the vast majority of landlord-tenant disputes, including those valued at up to $15,000. These same courts can also service eviction cases, including those that are being disputed by the tenant. Cases filed with the state’s small claims court do not appear to have a specific statute of limitations, however.
Mandatory Disclosures. Many states require their landlords to disclose certain information before a lease agreement can become fully active. Georgia only requires a couple disclosures on this front, including the following:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Authorized Authorities. A Georgia landlord must provide the name and address of any and all property owners applicable to the tenant with whom they are signing an agreement. This includes any individuals certified to act on those owners’ behalf. If any of these individuals change during the course of that tenant’s lease agreement, the landlord must provide an updated disclosure within 30 days.
- Flooding Risk. If the unit that the tenant intends to rent has flooded 3 times in the past 5 years, the landlord must disclose this fact as part of the lease agreement.
Changing the Locks. Georgia’s statutory guidance on changing locks relies on the content of individual lease agreements. As such, tenants are technically free to change their own locks and not provide their landlord with a new key unless their lease states otherwise. However, it does not appear that Georgia allows landlords to unilaterally change the locks in this way due to their prohibition on “lockouts.”
Georgia Landlord-Tenant Resources
As you look to learn more about Georgia’s landlord-tenant laws, these digital resources will steer you down the path of deeper understanding regarding your responsibilities and your options while entered into a lease agreement:
Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook – Published by the state’s Department of Community Affairs, this handbook provides guidance for landlords and tenants alike. While this guide can be useful for sorting out difficult disagreements between these two parties, its interpretations of the state’s landlord-tenant laws make it particularly valuable.
Georgia Legal Aid – This tenant-oriented legal aid resource can help support individuals who feel that their landlord has acted inappropriately find a productive legal solution. In particular, this resource publishes their own interpretations of relevant state laws (such as the state’s fair housing act) that can help a tenant in crisis find a clear path forward.
The Georgia Fair Housing Act – This state-published pamphlet provides a quick digest of one the state’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation. In addition to breaking down what actions the state considers discriminatory, this pamphlet also provides helpful insights into state-run programs that can help an individual find safe, affordable housing.