Renting a Home
Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
- When does a landlord tenant relationship begin? How to find a home to rent How can I rent a home? Renter's insurance Additional resources
When does a landlord tenant relationship begin?
When does the landlord tenant relationship begin? When does the landlord tenant relationship begin?
At the time that the lease is signed or when you enter the property, which ever happens first. Even if you do not ever occupy the premises there is still a landlord-tenant relationship created by the signing of the lease. There can be a landlord tenant relationship even if there is no payment of rent.
If you have a written lease, it will tell you some of what you need to do as a tenant, and will also tell you some of what the landlord has to do. Even if there is not a written lease, tenants and landlords still have to do certain things, which you can read about below.
Duties of tenants Duties of tenants
- Pay rent on time
- Keep the house or apartment clean; take out the trash
- Do not destroy or damage the house or apartment. Be careful
- Do not let other people live in your home or sublease your unit without talking to the landlord
- Do not make unreasonable use of plumbing and electrical fixtures
- Give 30 days’ notice before moving if there is not a written lease – a written lease might say a different amount of time
- Respect your neighbors’ right to a quiet and peaceful place to live
- When you leave, make sure to turn over all your keys to the landlord. If you do not return the keys, you might continue to owe rent
Some duties of landlords Some duties of landlords
- Landlords cannot turn off the water, electricity, or gas. Landlords must get a court order to force you to leave
- Landlords cannot lock you out, or keep you from getting into your house or apartment without a court order
- Unless the language of the lease states otherwise, rent cannot be increased during the lease term. If the lease doesn’t give the date you have the home until, the landlord cannot raise the rent without giving you 60 days’ notice
- The landlord must keep the home in good repair. The landlord must make repairs after you request the repairs. If you damage the house or apartment, the landlord may charge you for the repairs. However, the landlord may not charge you for normal wear and tear. The landlord cannot charge you for repairs for damage that you, your roommates, or your guests did not cause
Helpful tips for protecting your rights as a tenant Helpful tips for protecting your rights as a tenant
- Keep proof of rent payments – get a receipt if you pay in cash. Keep copies of other written papers such as leases, proof of damages, and letters or notices between you and your landlord
- Make sure you take a careful look at the place you are renting with the landlord at the beginning and end of your lease. Write on the lease any damages you see that you and the landlord sign
- If something in your home needs to be fixed, send a letter to your landlord about the repairs you need. You should keep a copy of the letter. For more information about repairs, go to the Rental Repairs page
- At the end of your tenancy, your landlord may keep your security deposit only if you are moving out and you owe rent, and if the house or apartment needs to be repaired or cleaned after you move out. See our Security Deposits page for more information
- If you are going to be away for a week or more, put in writing to the landlord that you’re not abandoning the unit
For information about Eviction, check out our Eviction Resources and visit the Eviction Under Georgia Law Slideshow in English and Spanish Page
How to find a home to rent
Finding a rental property where you want to live and for the right price can be hard.
- You can use the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website Georgia Housing Search, which gives you information about rental properties like the: rent, deposit, application fee, utilities included, and more.
- You can use the HUD.gov Affordable Apartment Search
- You can drive through neighborhoods you want to live in and look for “For Rent” signs.
- You can ask friends and relatives, check the classified section of the local newspaper, and check the bulletin boards in laundromats and supermarkets.
You can read the How Do I Find Housing brochure
You can also visit the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit’s Apartment Hunting page
How can I rent a home?
● Go see the unit
● Submitting a rental application
● Reviewing and Signing a Lease
● Basic information on renter’s insurance
● Basic information on security deposits
● Move-in inspection
Go see the unit Go see the unit
When should the tenant be shown the apartment they will be renting?
Some landlords will show you a model unit and tell you the unit you rent will look like the model. You should insist on seeing the actual apartment you will be renting before signing a lease.
Checklist for Renters:
Before you get involved with a landlord, it is important to know these things:
- Don’t rent a unit – meaning don’t pay any money, don’t sign a lease – without seeing the actual unit. Make sure the utilities work, and try to talk to the neighbors, before signing or paying.
Is the place in a good state? Does everything work as it should? Check the lights, windows, plumbing, kitchen fixtures, and doors. Does it need painting? Are there signs of roof leaks, cracks in the walls? Is it safe and secure? Are there locks on the doors and windows? Are there signs of rodents or insects?
Be sure to make your own notes about what you and the person showing you the apartment talk about so that you can make sure later that any repairs or improvements are written in the lease. Don’t rent a unit based on any promises that aren’t in writing.
Note that the person who shows you the place you are going to rent may not be the landlord. He or she may be the manager of the rental property. A Georgia law requires that a tenant be given - in writing - the names and addresses of the landlord (or appointed agent) and the manager of the rental property.
- Ask about the rent: What is the rent? When must it be paid? Does it cover any of the utilities?
Ask if a security deposit is required.
Submitting a rental application Submitting a rental application
Application fees may be required and are usually not refundable if the application is denied or if you change your mind. You should ask if the fee may be applied to the first month’s rent or security deposit if you sign a lease and move in. Always get a receipt for any fee or deposit – if the fee is refundable, ask the landlord to put this information on the receipt.
Landlord requests your information
Information that landlords sometimes ask for: your name, social security number, your current landlord’s name, your employer’s name, your job title and income, your past employment information, relative references, and consent from you for a credit report and criminal record check.
Credit and Background check
Landlords may require that you consent to a credit and criminal background check as part of the application. Credit reporting agencies can also give information about you to a possible landlord without your consent.
For more information on your credit score, visit the Consumer.gov Your Credit History page
For help with credit counseling, visit the Clearpoint Credit Counseling page
For an accessible version of this video content, you can read the video transcript.
Reviewing and Signing a Lease
Below are a few tips on leases - you can find more information on leases, what should be in the lease, and answers to common questions about leases in the What to Know About Leases resource.
When you find a place to rent that meets your needs, you'll enter into an agreement or contract with the owner of the property. This contract is called a lease.
The landlord is the person who is leasing the property to the renter. Usually, the landlord owns the property. The person who leases the property and agrees to pay the rent to the landlord is the tenant (you).
Written vs. Verbal Lease
A written lease provides certainty and clarity and helps resolve disputes. For example, you should make sure the rent amount is clear and cannot be increased during the lease term. Verbal leases often lead to misunderstandings about what was agreed upon.
Basic tips on leases
- Always read every part of the lease. If you are being pressured to sign too soon or quickly, be very wary.
- Don’t stop reading the lease just because someone says it’s a “standard lease.”
- Be 100% clear – in writing – about who is responsible for the various utilities and in whose name they must be.
- Be 100% clear – in writing – about who is responsible for extermination and yard maintenance and other duties.
- You shouldn’t agree to lease provisions that allow the landlord to terminate your lease on just a 30-day notice.
Basic information on security deposits
Below are a few tips on security deposits - you can find more information on the Security Deposits page.
What is a security deposit and why do I have to pay it?
Listen to a brief audio answer for What is a Security Deposit and Why do I Have to Pay it?
- Security deposits can be used by the landlord if you or your guests cause damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear. The landlord may also keep the deposit if you fail to pay rent or move out before the lease ends.
- In Georgia, a security deposit is for things such as damage deposits, advanced rent deposits, pet deposits or amounts applied toward payment of rent, services, or utilities. Pet deposits and advance rent deposits which are refundable under the lease are considered part of a security deposit under the Georgia law.
- A security deposit does not include nonrefundable pet fees, application fees, cleaning fees, or deposits to hold the apartment before you sign the lease.
Before paying any of these deposits or fees, you should get in writing what the payment is for and under what terms the payment will be refunded.
Don’t agree to non-refundable security deposits. Get a receipt and know what your lease says about deposits.
What do I need to know about security deposits before I sign a lease?
Georgia law requires that before you pay a security deposit and move in the landlord must give you a complete list of any existing damages to the premises signed by the landlord. You should be given an opportunity to inspect the unit, and check if the list is correct or if additional damages need to be added to the list. You must sign the list or write on the list the things that you noticed or disagreed with, and then sign.
These move-in rules apply to landlords who own more than 10 rental units (including units owned by their spouse and/or children) or who employ a management agent (no matter how many units they own). Under Georgia law, landlords who own fewer than 10 units and who manage the units themselves don’t have to follow these rules but may find them useful. Landlords who are required to conduct a move-in inspection are not allowed to withhold the security deposit if they failed to perform the inspection when the tenant moved into the unit.
Can I change my mind after I sign a lease but before I move in? Is there a period of time after signing a lease during which the landlord or tenant can change their mind and get out of the lease?
No, there is not a “cooling off” period in Georgia which would allow you to change your mind after signing a lease. If you decide not to move into the unit after signing the lease, the landlord may charge you for early termination penalties.
Whether or not a form is provided, always complete a move-in inspection checklist of repair issues and keep a copy.
If at all possible, don’t pay multiple months of rent up-front – that is often asking for later problems
A landlord’s property insurance typically does not cover your damaged personal items due to fire, theft, or water, therefore, tenants generally consider renter’s insurance a good purchase. Many renter’s insurance policies also provide liability coverage, for example, if a guest is injured in the rental unit. A lease may require you to purchase renter’s insurance.