What is a Landlord Tenant Relationship?
Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program®
- When Does the Landlord Tenant Relationship Begin?
At the time that the lease is signed or when the tenant enters the property, which ever happens first. Even if the tenant does 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.
- What laws govern the landlord tenant relationship?
Georgia law does not regulate the details of the landlord-tenant relationship but does set forth the general rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. The Georgia legislature passes laws which govern the rental of residential rental property in this state. These laws are contained in the Official Code of Georgia, Title 44, Chapter 7. The Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals decide cases which clarify how laws apply. Court decisions create a second type of law: case law. A court deciding a landlord tenant dispute looks at both the laws contained in the Code and the case law created by court decisions. Your public library may have copies of the Official Code of Georgia and the decisions of the Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. You can access the Official Code of Georgia through the internet at www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/GaCode/index.htm. You may access decisions of the Georgia courts through their website at www.gaappeals.us and www.supremecourt.georgia.gov. You can also access information on landlord tenant law and other housing issues at www.georgialegalaid.org.
If you are a landlord or tenant, not participating in a federal government housing program, there are only a few federal laws which apply to you. Federal law requires a landlord to notify renters of lead paint and to avoid discrimination in housing. In addition to federal and state law, the management of residential rental property is regulated by local housing codes. A landlord should contact their local county commission or city hall to find out if their community has a housing code and how it is enforced.
- What are the responsibilities of a landlord?
If you are a landlord, you are responsible for keeping the unit in a safe and habitable condition, making repairs, selecting tenants, and collecting rent from tenants. Once a property is leased, the tenant has the right to use, occupy and enjoy the premises in accordance with the lease or rental agreement. A written lease which clearly sets out the duties of both the landlord and the tenant provides the best protection for both parties. The actions of a landlord are controlled by the terms of the lease and applicable federal, state, and local law. There are a variety of books and websites which describe in general terms the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a landlord. You might also wish to consult with an attorney or real estate agent, experienced in managing rental property, for help in selecting a lease and understanding a landlord's rights and responsibilities.
- What is the difference between a tenant and a boarder?
Your legal rights depend on whether you are a tenant or boarder. A tenant is one who pays rent for the exclusive right to use the premises, usually for a defined period. A boarder is one who pays a fee for the right to use a room and receive services, generally for a short period of time. If you pay for shelter by the month, you are probably a tenant. To determine if you are a tenant or boarder the court will look at:
* Whether there is a written agreement and if it refers to itself as a lease and to payments as rent;
* The length of time you have lived at the residence;
* Whether the room is the only residence you have;
* Whether you are residing there temporarily;
* How often you pay rent. If you pay daily, you are likely a guest or boarder;
* Whether services such as linen service, switchboard service and maid service are provided;
* Whether you own the furnishings in the room;
* Whether the amount you pay includes tax; and
* Whether the person you pay has a business license.
If you are not a tenant but are a guest or boarder, you have limited protection under the law. If the hotel or boarding house owner wants a resident to move, he need only give notice equal to the time for which the occupancy is paid. For example if payment is made weekly, one weeks notice to vacate is all that would be required. However, if payment is past due or the boarder has violated the occupancy rules, no notice is required and the boarder can be required to leave immediately.
- When The Employer Provides Housing as Part of The Job, am I a Tenant?
Some employers provide employees with housing as part of their compensation. When the employment ends the ex-employee is usually told to move out. If the employee refuses to move the landlord can not just come and put the employee out. The tenant who remains after being told to vacate is a tenant at sufferance. During the term of their employment, the employee has the legal right to live on the property under the term of their employment contract. Upon termination of employment, the employees right to possession under the employment contract ended and he becomes a tenant at sufferance. If the ex-empolyer wants to remove the former employee he would need to file a dispossessory affidavit with the court where the land is located.
- I Have a Lease for Five Years. What Rights Do I Have as a Tenant?
A lease for over five years is treated differently than leases for shorter terms. Leases for over a five year term convey an interest in the property that can be bought or sold.
- What Is a Tenant at Sufferance?
A tenancy at sufferance exists when a person enters the property lawfully but remains on the property without the landlord's consent. If the landlord accepts rent from the tenant at sufferance, without a written lease, the landlord has converted a tenancy at sufferance into a tenancy at will. A tenancy at will exists when there is no specified end of the tenancy term. An oral agreement will be treated as creating a tenancy at will. A tenant at will is entitled to 60 days notice to vacate and must give 30 days notice to vacate. O.C.G.A.§ 44-7-7.
- What is a Tenant at Will?
A tenant who occupies rental property with the landlord's consent and makes rent payments without a written lease is called a "tenant-at-will." Georgia landlord-tenant law, including eviction laws and security deposits laws, still apply. A tenant-at-will has the right to occupy and use the rented premises subject to any restrictions upon which the landlord and the tenant have agreed.Because there is not a written lease, Georgia law regulates the type of notice which a tenant-at-will and the landlord of the tenant-at-will must give to terminate or change the original rental agreement. A tenant must give thirty (30) days notice to the landlord to terminate or change the original agreement. A landlord who has a tenant-at-will must give sixty (60) days notice to the tenant before seeking to terminate the agreement or change any term of the original agreement. This means the landlord must give a tenant-at-will sixty (60) days notice before imposing a rent increase. To protect your legal rights any and all notices should be in writing. When a tenant-at-will fails to pay rent the landlord is not required to give the sixty days notice before terminating the tenancy. If the tenant-at-will fails to pay rent, the landlord can demand possession and immediately file a dispossessory warrant seeking possession in court.
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: December 2003
- My Roommate and I Both Signed a Lease but She Has Moved Out. Can I Get out of the Lease?
Generally, if you signed a lease with your roommate, the apartment complex can hold each of you liable for the rent. The apartment complex will expect to receive the full monthly rent and, since you are living in the unit, will hold you responsible for payment. If both you and your roommate signed the lease, the apartment complex can seek full payment from either of you. However, the apartment complex can only collect the full amount from one of you. You may wish to contact the apartment manager and agree to pay a portion of the charges to be released from liability for the entire amount.
- Are landlords required to provide smoke detectors?
Yes, under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. §25-2-40) an approved battery operated smoke detector is required in every apartment, house, condominium, and townhouse constructed prior to July 1, 1987. The smoke detector is to be located on the ceiling or wall at a point centrally located in the corridor or other area giving access to each group of rooms used for sleeping. Where the dwelling has more than one story, detectors are required on each story including cellars and basements, but not including uninhabitable attics. The detectors must be listed and meet the installation requirements of NFPA 72. The law is to be enforced by local building and fire code officials. Tenants are required to keep the smoke detector in good working order
- Are landlords required to provide appliances such as refrigerators or stoves for use in their rental property?
There is no state law requiring a landlord to furnish appliances such as refrigerators or stoves. You should check your lease to see if such appliances are to be supplied under the terms of your agreement. It is important to inspect the unit prior to signing a lease to see what appliances are included and to see if they work properly. Local city or county housing codes may require the landlord to supply appliances.
- A tenant wants to review the file the landlord maintains on the unit. Must the landlord allow a tenant to review their rental file?
No, those files are the property of the landlord or management company. The tenant has no legal right to demand access to these files. However, if the file is used by the landlord against a tenant in court, the tenant can access the information in the files through court procedures.
- What information can a landlord request on an application? Can landlords charge an application fee?
Yes, a landlord can charge an application fee. This fee is usually not refundable if the application is denied. Georgia law does not limit the information a landlord can request from applicants. The following information is commonly requested on rental pplications: name, social security number, current landlord's name; address and phone number, employer's name; address and telephone number, applicant's job title and annual income, employment information going back five years, relative references, identity of nearest relative, and consent for both a credit report and a criminal record check.
- Is there a limit on the number of persons who can reside in a one bedroom apartment?
Georgia law does not regulate the number of persons who can reside in a housing unit. However, county or city ordinances may impose such limits.
- What responsibility does a landlord have to provide parking for residents of his rental property?
Georgia law does not regulate the number of parking spaces that a landlord must provide but city or county ordinances may. Unless the lease states that parking will be provided, the landlord is not responsible for ensuring that the tenant has a parking place. If the landlord does provide parking and unauthorized cars are parking there, the landlord may have the cars towed.
- Do landlords have to reveal to prospective tenants that a murder occurred in the apartment? Does the landlord have to notify other residents if he rents a unit to a convicted child molester?
Owners and their agents are required to respond truthfully if they are asked direct questions about the property's past. Georgia law (O.C.G.A.§ 44-1-16) directs owners or an owner's agent in a real estate transaction to answer truthfully to the best of their knowledge if asked a question concerning the property's prior occupancy by a diseased person, whether the property was the site of a homicide, other felony or a suicide. If answering such questions would require disclosure of information that is prohibited from release under state or federal law, the landlord may not answer. No cause of action is created by the failure to disclose such information. Georgia requires that certain sexual offender report their location and that the local sheriff make that information public. Owners and their agents in real estate transaction have no liability if they do not disclose the information. It is the sheriff's duty to maintain a public registry of the name and address of offenders. For a list of offenders go towww.ganet.org/gbi/disclaim.html
- I own rental property located near a creek which floods. Occasionally the flood waters reach my rental property. Do I need to notify my tenants about the possibility of flooding?
Yes, Georgia law (O.C.G.A.§ 44-7-20) requires that owners notify prospective tenants if the property has a propensity for flooding. If flooding has damaged any portion of the rented living space three times during the preceding five year period, the owner must give the tenant written notice that the apartment is prone to flooding. An owner who fails to provide the required notice can be held liable for damages to the tenant's tenant's personal property caused by flooding during the lease term.
- Is my landlord allowed to enter the apartment without notifying me first? Can my apartment be shown to prospective tenants during the last month of my occupancy without my permission?
A tenant has the right to the exclusive use of the lease premises. Unless the lease states otherwise, the landlord can only enter the property, if such entry is necessary to cure a dangerous condition, prevent destruction, or respond to a bona fide emergency on the premises. There is no legal requirement that a landlord notify a tenant prior to making entry under the above circumstances. You should check your lease to see if there are any provisions related to the landlord's right to show the apartment. If the lease does not state that the landlord can enter the apartment, a tenant could legally refuse the landlord access except as described above. However, it is best for the landlord and tenant to discuss the matter and reach a mutually acceptable solution. Notification requirements and entry provisions should be included in each lease. A reasonable accommodation might be for the landlord to provide advance notice, such as twenty-four (24) hours before entering the apartment.