Knowing your rights as a renter (often referred to as tenant rights) helps protect you from housing discrimination or unfair practices like rent or fee gouging. It also helps ensure you always have a clean, safe place to live and that there's no confusion about which responsibilities are yours and which are your landlord's.
Every state's laws are a little different; read on for details about Georgia's.
While lease agreements tend to be pretty lengthy, we strongly recommend you get yourself a tasty beverage, find a comfortable chair, and read the lease—at least three times. If this is your first time renting or the lease feels especially overwhelming, fear not. We’ll walk you through a couple of things to look out for.
As a renter, you have essentially agreed to pay a monthly rent to the owner of the house or apartment serving as your home. First and foremost, pay this rent! By signing a lease, you’re contractually obligated to submit this payment each and every month that you live at this home. Additionally, as a renter, you must willingly surrender the unit at the end of the lease term. By sticking around, you could find yourself liable for the holdover of your rental unit (GA Code § 44-7 Article 3).
While rent is your number one responsibility, there may be other things that you need to take care of, depending on what you agree to in your rental agreement/lease. For example:
- Yardwork (Cutting the grass, trimming the trees, etc.)
- Renter insurance
- Cable & Internet
- Snow removal (if applicable)
Depending on how your lease reads, you may be expected to pay for or perform the work yourself. If you’re not comfortable doing so, try to negotiate in advance of signing a lease. (Some cities also required landlords to cover the cost of certain utilities so check your city or state website to confirm). It’s okay if you are not comfortable paying for or performing these responsibilities—try and negotiate with the landlord if possible. If you cannot come to an agreement on the terms of the lease agreement, shop around for a home and landlord that is willing to work with you.
Your landlord's responsibilities
Your landlord’s responsibilities begin when the lease is signed and continues until shortly after you move out. At a minimum, the landlord is responsible for providing you with an acceptable place to live (GA Code § 44-7-13). This means the rental unit must be, by legal standards, relatively clean and safe.
The landlord must also take care of things like trash and utilities (basically, everything mentioned above under “Renter Responsibilities”) unless they’ve been specifically outlined as your responsibility in the lease. If there’s no language in the rental agreement that specifically requires you, as the renter, to mow the grass outside your rental unit, it is safe to assume that your landlord will take care of it. If there is any confusion about who is responsible for what, it’s a good idea to talk with your landlord before signing the lease.
Even in a landlord-friendly state like Georgia, landlords do have certain responsibilities to tenants. As a state on the southeastern border of the US, hurricanes, and flooding are a very real possibility in certain parts of the state. With that in mind, state law requires landlords to provide tenants with notice if their rental unit is prone to flooding (GA Code § 44-7-20).
Rental repairs and maintenance
In general, most landlords want to keep their rental units in decent shape. The longer they delay repairs, the more it costs them in the future. Here's Roost's guide on how to request repairs from your landlord, and here’s what you need to know specifically about Georgia.
- There are no laws requiring notice prior to entry in Georgia, but the majority of landlords in the state tend to give at least 24 hours advance notice.
- If the tenant notifies the landlord but no repairs are made in a reasonable time frame, the tenant can make the repairs by themselves and simply deduct the cost from their rent. Make sure to keep copies of repair cost receipts and send copies to the landlord along with the reduced rent payment.
- If the landlord does not make repairs to keep the unit uninhabitable, then the tenant is likely able to move out and not owe the rent. This route is risky if the court makes the determination that the unit is in fact habitable.
|The repair||Who’s usually responsible?|
|A leak in the roof or ceiling||Landlord|
|Paint mistakenly splashed on the walls||Tenant|
|Broken steps to the front door||Landlord|
|Lightbulbs burned out in your rental||Tenant|
|Broken water heater or dishwasher||Landlord|
|Power Outage due to loose wiring||Landlord|
Rental security deposits
In Georgia, there is no limit on the amount of security deposit a landlord can require. The amount they set is likely influenced by what other units are available to rent but overall, they can set whatever number they feel most comfortable with as the deposit on a unit. (For alternatives to paying a full upfront security deposit, check out companies like Rhino and The Guarantors It’s up to you as the tenant to accept this number or move on to other rental units instead.
If a landlord does choose to go the deposit route, they must comply with these following requirements:
- The landlord must hold the security deposit in an escrow account (GA Code § 44-7-31);
- Instead of an escrow account, the landlord may choose to post and maintain a surety bond equal to the deposit being held (GA Code § 44-7-32);
- Prior to receiving the deposit, the landlord must go through the unit with the tenant and list all existing defects and damages to the unit (GA Code § 44-7-33).
However, smaller operation landlords are exempt from these deposit holding requirements. A smaller operation is considered a landlord that holds less than 10 rental units (GA Code § 44-7-36).
When do you get your security deposit back after you move out? Assuming you leave your unit in good shape and have not missed any rent payments, your landlord must return your security deposit within 30 days after you have moved out of the rental unit (GA Code § 44-7-34). Read Roost's How to get your security deposit back for additional tips.
Rental agreements: rent increases, payment, and fees
If you are entering into a new rental situation, it’s very important to understand the financial side of your new living arrangement. While most people tend to base their decision on the rent amount, don’t be surprised if your landlord requires you to pay other fees. These include:
- Security deposit - Georgia law allows for security deposits, but they must be in compliance with the state code restrictions provided above.
- Screening fee - state law is silent on this, so it is permitted. To be enforceable in a rental situation for longer than 12 months, it must be in writing.
- Late rent fees - state law is silent on this, so it is permitted. To be enforceable in a rental situation for longer than 12 months, it must be in writing. However, if a landlord accepts a late rent payment, that landlord is no longer permitted to pursue a lawsuit against the tenant for damages related to the late rent.
- Cleaning fee - state law is silent on this, so it is permitted. To be enforceable in a rental situation for longer than 12 months, it must be in writing.
- Application/reservation fee - state law is silent on this, so it is permitted. To be enforceable in a rental situation for longer than 12 months, it must be in writing.
- Rent increases - Georgia law is silent on this and it is therefore permitted, but the amount must be “reasonable”.
- Pets - Check your lease before you get a pet. Georgia law doesn’t require landlords to accept pets, and if you don’t get permission in advance, it can be considered a violation of your lease and be cause for eviction. Additional pet rent or pet security deposit is not uncommon.
- Emotional support and service animals - If you have a mental or emotional disability, federal laws state landlords must make “reasonable accommodations”, which can include an emotional support or service animal. There are a few exceptions and this tends to be a pretty tricky area for both renters and landlords to navigate together, so be upfront about what you need and follow all required steps. Landlords cannot charge you extra for an emotional support or service animal.
Read Roost's What to know before signing that rental lease for additional tips.
Rent termination and eviction
Once you’ve moved into your rental unit, the place is yours until your lease is up, your landlord terminates the rental agreement early, or you’re evicted. Eviction is an unpleasant process for everyone, so it’s best for you and your landlord to do everything you can to avoid it. Being evicted makes it hard to find housing, can affect your credit, and does not relieve you from paying rent unless the landlord finds someone new to move in.
Your landlord can only evict you under certain circumstances. A landlord in Georgia can generally evict a tenant for some of the following reasons (GA Code § 44-7-53):
- Non-payment of rent;
- Serious damage to the rental unit; or
- Failing to leave the rental unit after the lease has ended
However, they can’t simply change the locks, dump your stuff on the front yard and kick you out. In order to legally evict you, a landlord must follow proper procedures and serve you an eviction notice before you are required to move out of your rental unit.
In Georgia, the eviction process for a landlord against a troubled tenant situation generally goes as follows (GA Code § 44-7-55):
- Provide notice to the tenant that they need to fix the issue (i.e. pay rent) or move out of the unit;
- If a tenant fails to comply with the notice, the landlord may file a proceeding with the court of proper jurisdiction;
- If the tenant fails to respond to the proceeding filings within a week, the landlord will be granted a default decision by a court that allows him to evict the tenant;
- If the tenant will not voluntarily leave, the landlord can contact the local sheriff to schedule a forceful eviction;
- The landlord should NEVER try to forcibly evict a tenant by their own accord.
Renting with roommates
Sometimes your roommate situation just doesn’t work out. Unfortunately, you’re both responsible for the lease, and in many ways, you’re both responsible for each other’s actions. Depending on how your rental agreement is written, if your roommate bails, you could be stuck having to pay the full rent on your own. While you can use legal action to go after your former roommate, you may still have to pay full rent when it’s due.
One of the most common questions that arise when there’s a problem with a roommate is whether you can evict them. In short: no. If your roommate’s name is on the lease as a tenant, you cannot kick them out, so sending an eviction notice would be pointless. If they are not on the lease, they may not be considered a tenant, which technically means they don’t have any legal obligations to fulfill in regards to your lease anyway.
Rental housing discrimination
Thanks to Fair Housing laws in Georgia, you’re protected from discrimination when applying for a rental (RCW 49.60, 42 U.S.C. 3601). This means that the landlord or property manager can’t base their decision any of the following:
- National Origin
- Gender Identity
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Presence of Children
- Military/Veteran Status
Georgia also has Fair Housing Law as part of the official code of Georgia (GA Code § 44-7-35). Under this state law, property owners are prohibited from discriminating during the sale, rental or financing of dwellings due to:
- Disability or handicap
- Familial status
- National origin
As you can see, Georgia laws fall in line with the federal statute.
Despite these protections, some people find a way to use a negative background check or a credit report as cover for discrimination. If you feel like any of the above factors were actually the reason why you were denied a place, you may want to talk with an attorney.
A number of states, including Georgia, have stepped up and provided resources to ensure renters can stay in their homes even if they’re struggling to make rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order through July 24th to address the needs of Georgians during the coronavirus outbreak.
Included in the moratorium:
- Evictions for nonpayment of rent and any applicable charges and fees for nonpayment of rent have been suspended.
- You may be eligible for a financial hardship exemption if you’ve experienced the loss of income due to COVID-19. It’s best to contact your landlord right away to discuss your options.
Note: Rent is still due during this period and will accumulate if unpaid and may make you subject to eviction after the moratorium expires, so it’s recommended that you pay whatever you can when you can. Get more information.
The Trump administration recently announced a new executive order for a rent moratorium through the end of the 2020 year. The order was put forward by the Centers for Disease Control to help prevent Covid-19 spread. Under the updated directive, families must prove they tried to pay their rent and that eviction would force them into a shelter or close quarters with others. If this covers you, then you’ll need to attest to your situation and a substantial loss of income on a form. Forms are to come available via the CDC website.
The order does not waive any rent debt — it just defers it — still leaving many renters vulnerable. And, it still allows landlords to charge fees, penalties, and interest, according to the draft document posted on September 1st.
The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act moratorium which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loan, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.
The executive order covers more renters than the former CARES Act federal moratorium on evictions which only protected those living in housing with a federally backed mortgage loans, public housing, Section 202 housing for the elderly, Section 811 housing for people with disabilities, rural rental housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, USDA housing voucher, or VA voucher. That Act protection expired on July 25, 2020.
Stay tuned... Congress is currently working on a bill called the CARES Act 2, which could afford more protection for renters if passed.
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State rules and regulations
Your renters rights, in your state.
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You probably already know that we’re not a law firm, but just to make sure we get this out of the way: We can’t provide any advice or opinions about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies. And by hanging out with us here at Roost, you agree to our Legal disclaimer.