General Information on Eviction
Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
What is Eviction?
- Landlords and tenants each have rights and responsibilities.
- Landlords must make repairs and keep the property in good condition.
- Tenants must pay rent and follow other terms of the lease.
Your Landlord can legally evict you if you have not paid your rent, you have violated your lease, or if you have not moved out at the end of your lease. A landlord cannot evict you for reasons such as race or gender: anti-discrimination laws apply in eviction cases.
In Georgia, landlords cannot kick you out or stop you from entering your residence without suing you in court. A lawsuit to evict you is called a dispossessory affidavit. Always call a lawyer if you receive a lawsuit.
Self-help evictions, including changing the locks, having the utilities turned off, removing your belongings, or threatening you, are illegal under Georgia Law. During the eviction process, you are allowed to keep the property until there is a court decision. During this time, the landlord cannot cut off utilities.
What are the Steps of the Eviction Process?
1. Demand for possession. The landlord must demand that you immediately give up possession of the residence and vacate. A notice of eviction will usually be in writing, but it can be spoken. A landlord should give you a date by which you have to leave, and if you do not leave by that date the landlord can initiate the eviction in court.
Make sure to read your lease if you have one. The landlord will have to give you as much time as it says in the lease.
If there is no lease and the eviction is because you have not paid past rent, the notice period can be very short, even as little as one day. If there is no lease and the eviction is for a reason other than past due rent, the landlord must give the tenant 60 days of notice.
2. File a Dispossessory Affidavit Under Oath. The landlord will then file a legal document (known as a dispossessory affidavit) requesting the court to take the residence back. Filing this legal document costs money, and the landlord can also ask that the court makes you pay the cost.
Eviction lawsuits are usually filed in magistrate court because they are easier to navigate, but can also be filed in state or superior court.
3. You are Served the Dispossessory Warrant. This warrant will have important information such as: the name of the landlord, your name, the reasons for the eviction, a statement that the landlord demanded that you leave and that you refused, the amount of rent or other money that is owed, and where to file your Answer to the warrant.
You will receive the warrant from the sheriff, a sheriff deputy, or any law enforcement officer. It can be physically given to you or an adult living in the residence; or it can be tacked to the door – in this case you will also receive a copy in the mail (this is called “tack and mail”).
When the eviction is served by “tack and mail,” usually the court cannot order you to pay money owed to the landlord (also known as a “money judgment”). But if you file papers with the court (an "Answer" to the dispossessory warrant) or go to the hearing, then the court can order you to pay money you owe to the landlord.
4. Your Answer. Normally, tenants must file their response to the eviction lawsuit within seven (7) days of properly receiving the warrant.
You do not have to file papers with the court responding to the eviction. If you don’t file an Answer, your landlord will win the case (this is called a default judgment). Your landlord will get the court’s permission to have the sheriff evict you (this is called a writ of possession). The court may give permission as early as the day after your deadline for filing an Answer.
You may want to talk to a lawyer to help you decide if you want to file an Answer or not.
If you decide you do want to file an Answer, you must write a response to the dispossessory warrant.
If you are unable to write your Answer yourself, you can ask the court clerk for reasonable accommodation. Remember that the clerk is not allowed to give you advice, and you may want to bring a family member or friend to help you.
Your Answer should include: all defenses or reasons why the court should not order the eviction and/or all claims against the landlord.
If you are being evicted because the landlord says that you violated your lease, your Answer should state why the lease was not violated.
On the Answer form, there is a space for counterclaims, where you can tell the court that the landlord did something wrong or did not do something he or she should have done. For example: if the landlord failed to make repairs; if there has been damage to your personal property because of flooding or other conditions; if you have not been able to enjoy or use the property because of the landlord’s activities (such as noisy neighbors or not being able to use the property as you are allowed under the lease).
If you did not file an Answer and have a very good, very sympathetic reason why, it is possible to ask the court to: stop the removal of your possessions (writ of possession), set aside the default judgment, allow you to file an Answer, and to allow you to have a hearing. It is best to have an attorney do this, if at all possible.
5. Hearing. If you file an Answer, a hearing on the issues will be held.
Make sure you bring a copy of your lease (if you have a written lease), any notices from your landlord or police/fire department reports, pictures, and any witnesses that would be useful for your case – you cannot have written statements. You can ask about getting court-ordered subpoenas for witnesses whose jobs or school situations would not otherwise allow them to come to your hearing.
Once a hearing is held, the court will issue its decision.
6. The Court Makes its Decision. If the court rules for the landlord, the landlord should request a writ of possession that requires you to move after (7) days and may also demand payment of past rent owed.
7. Appeals. If the court has ruled against you, you can file an appeal within seven (7) days from the date the court’s judgment was entered. If you want a jury trial, you must request the jury trial within thirty (30) days from the filing of your appeal.
An appeal prevents a writ of possession from being carried out. However, if you wish to continue living in the residence during the appeal process, you must pay the court the rent amounts that you owe. The court may also order you to pay the future rent as it becomes due. If you cannot pay the rent amounts you can still appeal, but you have to leave the residence.
You also have to pay the court costs, or file a paupers affidavit, which is a request that you do not have to pay the court costs.
What if I now Have the Money to Pay what I Owe?
If your landlord is trying to evict you because you have not paid your rent, you may be able to avoid eviction by paying all that the landlord says is due plus the court costs. You must offer the payment within seven (7) days of receiving the summons. The landlord is required to accept such payment from you only once a year. This is called a tender defense.
If your landlord refuses this payment, you should file an Answer stating that tender was offered, but refused. If a court finds the landlord refused a proper tender, the court can order the landlord to accept payment and allow you to remain in possession of the residence if you make the payment within three (3) days of the court’s order.
Glossary of Eviction Terms
Self-help Evictions: It is illegal for landlords to use “self-help” measures to evict a tenant without going to court. “Self-help” measures include things such as: changing the locks on the rental property, having the utilities turned off, or removing the tenant’s belongings from the rental property.
Dispossessory Affidavit: A lawsuit to evict a tenant.
Writ of Possession: A legal document that allows the sheriff to immediately remove you from the residence.
Counterclaims: A space on the Answer form where you can tell the court that the landlord did something wrong or did not do something he or she should have done.
Paupers Affidavit: A request that you do not have to pay the court costs during the appeals process.
Tender Defense: If you offer to pay all rent your landlord accuses you of owing plus the court costs within seven (7) days of being served the dispossessory warrant, and your landlord refuses, you can file a tender defense.
Watch a Video on Eviction
Learn About Eviction In Georgia
This video presentation about the law on eviction was created by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
Find basic information on evictions by watching and listening to the Learn About Eviction in Georgia Slideshow created by the Institute of Government, Law School, and Center for Teaching and Learning at UGA, and the Law School at Mercer University.
Learn about protecting yourself before you even sign a lease, while you are renting, when you move out, and if your landlord tries to evict you by reading the Tenants' Rights Brochure.
To get answers to commonly asked questions about evictions, learn more about the stages of the eviction process, and find general residential landlord-tenant information, read the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook.
Click the counties below to find county-specific information on evictions: