How do Georgia’s eviction laws impact me?
How many rent payments can I miss before my landlord can evict me? If I’ve been evicted in the past, can landlords automatically reject me? + other questions with unpleasant answers.
Failure to pay rent is the most common reason for eviction in Georgia. So, as rents rise (and wages, for the most part, do not), evictions become more common. From January to June of this year, five counties in metro Atlanta (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett) reported over 72,000 evictions. By May 2023, Cobb County alone had seen nearly 7,000 eviction cases, an increase of almost 600 compared with last year. Here’s how Georgia’s eviction laws could impact you.
An eviction is a legal procedure that allows a landlord to regain possession of their property from a tenant who is no longer legally entitled to it. In Georgia, there’s no specific government agency that can intervene in a landlord-tenant dispute; often either party goes to court to resolve an issue or enforce their legal rights.
How many rent payments can I miss before my landlord can evict me?
Short answer: one. Your landlord can give you an eviction notice the day after your missed payment. (In Georgia, that notice doesn’t even need to be written—a verbal eviction notice is allowed.)
However, under what’s called the tender defense, your landlord must accept one late payment per 12-month period. If the landlord has filed a dispossessory affidavit (i.e., eviction notice) due to nonpayment, you can avoid eviction by paying the amount due plus court costs within seven days of receiving the summons. The landlord is required to accept it under the aforementioned defense. If the landlord accepts the tender, the tenant must still file an answer to let the court know. If the landlord does not accept the payment, the filed answer should state that the tender was offered but refused by the landlord. In some cases, the court may order the landlord to accept it.
If the eviction is for a reason other than nonpayment—like violation of lease terms—the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant asking them to comply with the lease.
If I’ve been evicted in the past, can landlords automatically reject me?
Yes. A past eviction could be interpreted as a red flag that you’re a risky tenant, so landlords may deny your rental applications. However, per federal law, they must inform you that they’re rejecting you based on information on the tenant screening report. If you suspect a landlord is discriminating against you for your criminal history or on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability, you can file a complaint against them with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
How long will an eviction impact my ability to find housing?
Eviction lawsuits can stay on some tenant screening reports for up to seven years. An eviction doesn’t appear on your credit report, but if related unpaid rent and fees are sent to collections, those will—for seven years. And if any money you owed the landlord was included in a bankruptcy, that debt will stay on your screening report for 10 years.
Is it possible to have an eviction removed from my record?
Despite a few other states having laws on the books to expunge or seal eviction records under certain circumstances, Georgia does not have a law that regulates access to them, nor does it have a formal procedure to remove them from your record. If you believe your eviction record should be sealed (which limits who can view it), consult a housing attorney to see if you have grounds for the request.
What can I (or can’t I) be evicted for?
Legally, a landlord can evict you for failure to pay rent on time, failure to vacate the unit at the end of the lease, or a violation of the lease—like criminal activity or substantial damage to the property.
A landlord cannot retaliate against you or evict you if:
you file a complaint to a government agency due to health or structural issues
you ask for needed repairs of the unit due to code violations
you ask for the landlord to adhere to the lease or to a municipal ordinance related to your housing
you participate in a tenant union or organization
If the landlord attempts to retaliate and violate your tenant rights, you can take legal action against them. Reach out to a lawyer, but if you cannot get a lawyer, you can file your claim in the magistrate court of the county where the landlord is.
How much time before they remove my belongings from my home?
Landlords cannot evict you or restrict access to your unit unless they’ve gone through the court dispossessory eviction process. It is illegal to evict you without a court order. During the court proceedings and up to the final court decision, you can remain in the property. The landlord cannot change the locks during this time and can be fined up to $500 for shutting off utilities.
Once your landlord has the eviction warrant, they can request a writ of possession that requires the tenant to move after seven days and pay past rent owed. After that timeline, the sheriff can immediately remove you and your belongings from the property. Your personal property can be placed outside, and it’s then your responsibility to guard your belongings.
How can I fight an unfair eviction?
A landlord can terminate a lease early only if there is a legal reason or cause, such as nonpayment of rent or violation of the terms of the lease or rental agreement. You can appeal the judgment within seven days of filing. To appeal, submit a response explaining why the eviction is not lawful. Either write your response or inform the court clerk, who can assist you in writing it. Submitting your response within seven business days of the actual filing date is vital.
If you have been unlawfully evicted—and if you file a lawsuit and win it—you could earn damages and attorney fees. Your landlord might incur a fine or criminal charges.
1. Missed Rent
One of the legal reasons your landlord can evict you is a single missed rent payment.
The landlord must go to court to start the eviction process. The local sheriff can tack a copy of the eviction warrant to your door once granted. The eviction warrant can also be personally delivered to the tenant or a competent adult residing in the unit.
Once you receive the eviction warrant, you have seven days to file an answer with the court clerk, listing the reasons you shouldn’t be evicted. If you miss this deadline, the sheriff and landlord can evict you immediately.
This is a vital option if you want to avoid having an eviction on your record. Offer the rent owed, late fees, and cost of the warrant as a onetime settlement to drop the suit. Get the agreement in writing and signed.
If you go to court, you’ll be able to present the reasons you shouldn’t be evicted and present your counterclaims.
If the court rules against you, the judge will let you know if the eviction is effective immediately or on a specific date after the hearing. You must remove yourself and your belongings by the date stated during the court proceedings. Any property left behind is considered abandoned.
You have the right to appeal the judge’s decision within seven days of the hearing.