Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Georgia
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Landlords in Georgia can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Georgia.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 22, 2021
If you're renting a house or apartment in Georgia, your landlord can evict you if you fail to pay rent, violate a lease term, or remain on the property after the lease expires. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have rights in the process. This article will explain the eviction process in Georgia and what steps a landlord must take to evict you legally. It’ll also offer practical tips for tenants facing eviction in the Peach State and explain what Georgians can do to fight an eviction.
What Is Eviction?
An eviction is a legal action landlords can take to remove a tenant from a rental property. In legal terms, the landlord is said to be regaining possession of the property. To do so, the landlord must show that it has a right to possess the property and that you no longer have that right because of nonpayment of rent or a lease violation. To legally evict a tenant, the landlord must bring a lawsuit against them and win a court order to evict.
Eviction lawsuits are called dispossessory proceedings in Georgia. In addition to the lawsuit, landlords must also get a writ of possession. This writ is a court order that allows the landlord to legally remove a tenant or illegal occupant from the property. Without a writ of possession, the eviction is an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.
Who Can Be Evicted in Georgia?
Evictions can only occur when there’s a landlord-tenant relationship. This exists when a landlord agrees to lease property to a tenant in exchange for rent. This agreement is often outlined in a lease or rental agreement. Generally, people living with a tenant can also be evicted, even if they’re not on the lease. For example, if the tenant has children or lives with a housemate who isn’t on the lease, they can be evicted if the tenant is evicted.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Georgia?
There are three reasons that landlords evict tenants:
The tenant is short, late, or behind on rent.
The tenant has breached a lease term other than the requirement to pay rent.
The lease expires, and the landlord isn’t renewing it.
The eviction proceedings landlords use are the same for each of these grounds for eviction. In all cases, the landlord must initiate a lawsuit (the dispossessory proceeding). They then follow the same procedure to get a writ of possession from the court, which allows them to evict the tenant.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
Under Georgia law, rent is late the day after it’s due. Your lease agreement may include a grace period or outline different terms for what constitutes late rent. Once rent is past due, your landlord is required to give you some form of verbal or written notice before going to court to evict you. But Georgia law doesn’t state how much time the landlord has to give in the eviction notice.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Georgia also allows your landlord to evict you after your landlord terminates the lease or if the lease has expired. In both cases, the landlord alleges that you no longer have the right to live in the property, even if you are currently paying rent.
These situations are different though. Lease expiration is when your lease expires and your landlord isn’t renewing it, but you remain on the property. Lease termination is when your landlord terminates the lease because you violated one of the lease’s terms by causing damage or a nuisance on the property.
The Georgia Eviction Process
The following is a basic overview of the general process in Georgia for residential eviction cases.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
In Georgia, a landlord must give you notice before beginning an eviction proceeding in court. But there are no specific notice requirements outlined in state law. Your lease agreement may outline specific notice or grace period rules. If your lease includes a grace period or outlines notice requirements, your landlord must allow you the time in the grace period to pay the past due rent or follow those notice requirements.
After giving you notice, if you refuse to leave the property, the landlord can immediately go before a Georgia magistrate court and start the eviction process.
The landlord makes an affidavit.
In Georgia, if you don’t move out at the end of your rental agreement or if you fail to pay the rent when it becomes due, a landowner may demand that you leave the property. If you refuse to leave, the landlord can appear before a judge and make an affidavit. This means they tell the judge the reason why they want to evict you in a sworn statement. This is the beginning of the eviction lawsuit. Then, based on the affidavit, the court will issue a dispossessory warrant.
The landlord serves the tenant.
Once the landlord makes an affidavit, the court grants and issues a summons. Your landlord must serve you copies of both the summons and affidavit. The sheriff will try to serve these papers to you personally. If they’re unable to serve you personally, the landlord can serve you by delivering the summons and the affidavit to any person who resides on the premises.
If your landlord makes reasonable efforts using a sheriff or constable to serve you on the premises but is unsuccessful, the landlord can post copies of the summons and affidavit on the door of the property. If they do this, they must also send you a copy of the summons and the affidavit to your last known address by first-class mail on the same day they post the summons on the property.
The summons includes the date for the eviction hearing. It must also state the last possible date to answer the allegations in the affidavit. The eviction hearing will happen within seven days of the date you’re served. You’re required to answer the summons either orally or in writing at the eviction hearing. Your answer may contain any defense or counterclaim that you have against your landlord, who’s not required to appear on the date that you respond in court.
If service is accomplished by posting copies of the summons and affidavit on the door of the premises and mailing copies of the summons and the affidavit to you, the court is limited in the type of judgment it can enter against you. The court can enter a default judgment for possession of the rental unit in the absence of an answer being filed, but it cannot enter a default judgment for any past rent or other money owed unless you file an answer or otherwise make an appearance. This means the court can order you to leave the property but not to pay past-due rent.
The court holds a trial.
In any eviction case where the court can’t resolve the issue of the right of possession within two weeks from the date of service of the copies of the summons and affidavit, you’re required to pay all rent and utility payments that become due and any that are allegedly owed prior to the court issuing the dispossessory warrant. If you fail to attend this court date, the court will enter a default judgment for your landlord. This means the landlord wins by default since you didn’t show up.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
An affirmative defense is based on facts other than those that support the plaintiff's (landlord) allegations. A successful affirmative defense excuses you from some or all liability even if all the allegations in the landlord’s complaint are true. It may stop the eviction. Any Georgia tenant who is wrongfully dispossessed has an action for damages against the landlord. This means that if your landlord evicts you wrongfully and it causes you to suffer some monetary loss, you have a claim against your landlord.
When drafting your answer to the landlord’s affidavit, you can raise any counterclaims against the landlord. The most common counterclaims in landlord-tenant disputes are about the property’s conditions. Georgia law requires that a “landlord must keep the premises in repair.” In effect, if something like an appliance, fixture, or another part of the rental property breaks or stops working, the landlord must fix it.
The landlord may have breached a term of the lease agreement or breached the implied warranty of habitability. An implied warranty of habitability guarantees that the landlord maintains the premises in good condition for the use and enjoyment of the tenant.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
If you win the case, the court will award you a judgment, and you’re entitled to remain on the premises. Your landlord is also liable for all damages that you can show were caused by their wrongful conduct. Any funds from deposited rent remaining in the court’s possession are distributed to the parties according to the court’s judgment.
After the trial, if the court awards a judgment against you, the judgment will be for all rents due and any other claim relating to the dispute with your landlord. The court then issues a writ of possession. This allows the landlord to recover the past-due rent and, after seven days, retake possession of the property.
A writ of possession authorizes your landlord to remove you and your personal property from the premises. The writ allows your landlord to place your personal property on some part of the landlord's property or other property as your landlord chooses and approved by the officer executing the writ. In this situation, the landlord has no duty of care and protection of your personal property. After execution of the writ, the court regards this property as abandoned.
Your landlord must apply for execution of a writ of possession within 30 days of the court issuing the writ unless your landlord provides an affidavit showing good cause for the delay in applying for the execution of the writ. If the landlord fails to execute a writ within 30 days, it must apply for a new writ.
The Appeals Process
If the landlord or tenant wants to appeal the judgment, they must file the appeal within seven days of the date the judgment was entered.
If the trial court’s judgment is for the landlord and you appeal, you must pay the court any amount due for rent to remain in the rental property. As a tenant, you’re also required to pay all future rent as it becomes due to the trial court until the issue has been finally determined on appeal.
In an action for nonpayment of rent, you have seven days from the day you were served with the summons to pay all rent allegedly owed, plus the cost of the dispossessory warrant. This serves as a complete defense and stops the eviction proceeding. But keep in mind that this defense is only available once every 12 months. Your landlord is required to accept payment only once from a tenant after the court issues a dispossessory summons in any 12 month period. If you can make this payment, make sure you get some record or receipt of payment.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Georgia
If you’re behind on your rent and facing eviction, there are tools available to help you. You can also talk to an attorney experienced in dealing with landlord-tenant matters.
If you’re involved in an eviction lawsuit, collect all evidence supporting any affirmative defenses or counterclaims that you want to bring against your landlord. This evidence includes written documentation, photographs, videos, and anything else that will support your claims about the property's condition and the landlord’s failure to meet its obligations under the lease and Georgia law. You can even ask a county or municipal building inspector to visit the property and make an official report about its condition.
If you can’t appear in court for any scheduled hearings, including the hearing to show cause, contact the court and request a continuance. This is asking the court to reschedule the hearing. If you fail to appear, you’ll lose by default.
Maintain a civil relationship with your landlord. Good communication between you and your landlord can help when eviction is a real possibility later down the road. Having an eviction lawsuit on your rental history can harm your chances of renting in the future.
If your landlord initiates an eviction, try to negotiate a settlement to pay the past-due rent while remaining in the property. Or ask the landlord to agree to let you move out in some reasonable time. Make sure that any agreement with your landlord is in writing and signed by your landlord.
Tenant Resources in Georgia
The following is a list of links to nonprofit and governmental organizations providing free resources to renters in Georgia.
Resources by county:
Information for individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic:
The national CDC eviction ban expired on August 26, 2021. As a result, landlords may now bring eviction proceedings against a tenant to remove them from the rental property. To this end, the Georgia Supreme Court has also advised local courts to conduct video proceedings whenever possible. If you’re worried about eviction, reach out to your local legal aid group as soon as possible. Also, a landlord-tenant attorney can help you deal with your eviction. The links above may contain information about housing assistance related to COVID-19. You can also visit the Atlanta COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program for more information.