Georgia landlords and tenants may have an oral agreement regarding the lease of a premises or unit but it should be in writing or you risk having the court rule in favor of the tenant in most instances if interpretation or existence of any allegedly agreed-to condition is in dispute.
Any lease that is a year or more must be in writing. If you have a yearly Georgia residential lease agreement and the tenant pays the normal rent that is accepted by you, it automatically becomes a new yearly lease. If you or the tenant would rather have it as month-to-month, a new written lease agreement must be drafted.
With any lease agreement, the landlord has an implied covenant to provide a habitable residence or one that has basic utilities such as electricity, hot water, heat, plumbing and garbage disposal. The landlord is also responsible for rodent infestations or any other hazard to the tenant’s safety or health not created by the tenant and must keep the premises in good repair.
Further, Georgia has no rent control laws in any municipality and no laws on late fees, grace periods or when a rent increase notice must be sent.
Basic Lease Provisions
A Georgia residential lease agreement should contain some basic provisions to ensure that your and your tenant’s rights and obligations are set forth. There are also provisions that may not be included as they may violate state or federal laws.
Under state and federal laws, you may not discriminate against any tenant or prospective tenant on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, gender, disability or familial status. You can discriminate on the basis of affordable or accessible housing for older tenants.
Basic provisions should include:
- Name of the landlord and address to whom rent payments and applicable notices may be sent
- Names of the tenants and persons who will be residing in the unit
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease
- Rent and date it is due along with grace period if any
- Returned check fees-not to exceed $30 or 5% of the face amount of the rent check plus any fees charged to the holder by the financial institution
- Late fees and amount
- Security deposit
- Entry by landlord—no set time but 24 hours is reasonable and advised for any purpose other than emergencies
- Responsibility for utilities
- Consent needed for alterations or modifications to premises
- Pet clause
- Subletting clause
- Maintenance responsibilities
- Termination notice
- No criminal activity
- Disclosure before lease is signed if any portion of the living space has been flooded 3 times in the past 5 years
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.
While you can include anything you wish in a lease agreement, it does not mean that it will be enforceable and in some cases may expose you to liability if you attempt to follow through with self-enforcement. Some provisions that you may not include are:
- Waiver of right to sue landlord for personal injury or other negligent acts or cause of action
- Right to enter at any time
- Right to repossess the premises without a court order if the tenant fails to pay rent
- Require that tenants be liable for any damage to the unit regardless of fault
A major part of any residential lease agreement is the security deposit. Georgia law does not limit the amount of the deposit you may require. The deposit may be used for:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Unpaid utilities
- Abandonment of premises
- Damages not caused by ordinary wear and tear or deterioration
- Any other damages caused by the tenant provided the landlord makes a reasonable attempt to mitigate the damages
The landlord must deposit the money in an escrow account but no interest need be paid on the funds. The tenant does need to be informed in writing of the location of the account.
If you are the owner and/or your family collectively owns 10 or fewer rental units, you are required to give the tenant a written checklist of existing damage to the unit and allow the tenant to inspect the property before signing the checklist and submitting the deposit.
Within 3 days after the unit has been vacated, you must inspect the property and provide the tenant a comprehensive and detailed list of damages and estimated value. Your tenant has 5 days after vacating the premises to conduct an inspection to ascertain the accuracy of your list and the amount you are asserting should be deducted from the security deposit.
Should you not keep the deposit in an escrow account or provide the check-in list, or the damages assessment list, then you are liable for 3 times the security deposit and the tenant’s attorney’s fees if the court deems your failure was willful and intentional.
No Tenant’s Right to Withhold Rent
Unlike other states, Georgia has no statute regarding the tenant’s right to withhold rent after making a written request to the landlord to make repairs and the landlord refuses to do so. However, the tenant may repair and deduct the reasonable cost of such repairs in such cases. Upgrades are not permitted without consent of the landlord.
Termination of Lease and Required Notices
Georgia residential tenants have 30-days to notify the landlord of their intent to vacate the premises if a monthly lease. Landlords must give 60-days’ notice before the expiration of the lease if it is a month-to-month. If the lease is yearly or otherwise a fixed term, it simply ends on the last day of the term. No state statute addresses weekly leases.
Georgia law is somewhat unique from other states in that you can immediately move to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent without a Notice to Quit or similar notice. However, the tenant can cure the violation and avoid eviction if the rent is paid by the seventh day after service of the summons. This operates as a complete defense. A landlord need only accept such late payment once in a 12-month period.
Should the tenant violate any other part of the lease, such as by subletting the lease without consent or consistently offending other tenants with loud behavior at all time of the day and night, there is no statutory notice so that immediate eviction measures may be undertaken.
If the tenant vacates or abandons the premises early, the landlord has no duty to mitigate damages by looking for another tenant, though he or she must undertake other steps to mitigate damages caused by the tenant.
Georgia does not allow a landlord to self-evict a tenant, or force the tenant to vacate without an eviction order. Self-eviction refers to the landlord taking such steps as changing the locks, shutting off utilities, harassing the tenant by constant entries or other offensive conduct, or removing the tenant’s property. Retaliatory eviction is not addressed under any Georgia statute. This is an attempt to force the tenant out for exercising a civil right including filing a complaint about the premises or landlord’s failure to repair or keep the premises habitable or for joining a tenant’s union. If this should occur, the tenant may have a cause of action under other principles of law such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
If the landlord intentionally shuts off an essential utility, the fine is up to $500.
Military Service Protections for Tenant
There are certain steps that need to be followed if the tenant is called to active military duty for at least 180 days. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the tenant should notify you at least 30 days in advance of deployment. If done so, the lease will end after the first date on which the next monthly rent is due. The tenant may have to pay one more month’s rent. As landlord, you cannot withhold any portion of the security deposit as a penalty or use it to pay any portion of rent remaining under the lease. It can be used to pay for damage to the premises so long as you follow the proper procedures in doing so.
Destruction of Premises
In the event the premises or unit is destroyed or devastated by fire or other catastrophe, the tenant is still liable for the rent if the event was not the fault of the landlord.
Before you draft or use a Georgia residential lease agreement, consider speaking to a landlord/tenant attorney about what provisions you want in your lease. You should also be aware of your obligations and those of your tenants as well as what the laws of Georgia require of you.