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What should I know about ending or renewing a lease?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Ending or renewing a lease in Georgia Resources

Ending or renewing a lease in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What happens when my lease ends?

The lease will say that one of three things can happen: the lease terminates, extends, or renews at the end of the lease term.

  • Terminate: The lease terminates if there is not a renewal or an extension. Once the lease terminates, the landlord may seek possession of the rental property from you.

  • Extension: An extension is when your lease says that you will keep being a tenant for more time under the same terms and conditions. If there is an extension there is usually no need to sign a new lease.

  • Look out for an automatic extension. Some leases say that there is an automatic extension at the end of the current lease unless you tell them you don’t want to extend the lease. Then, if you fail to tell the landlord that you won’t be extending, you could be responsible for another lease term.

  • Renew: A lease may allow you to renew by signing a new lease. A landlord can offer the tenant a new lease with different terms, including an increase in rent. Georgia law does not limit the amount of rent a landlord can charge or the amount by which rent can be increased. Make sure to give your landlord written notice that you would like to renew in time. Otherwise the landlord may terminate the lease.

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What are my rights and responsibilities?

If you would like to stay in your unit, read your lease to find out how to renew or extend. If your lease does not answer your question, talk to your landlord. If you and your landlord cannot agree on a new lease or an extension of your old lease, you should plan on moving when your lease ends. If you remain in your unit after your lease expires, the landlord can require that you immediately sign a new lease with new terms or leave. It is best to negotiate your new lease before your old lease expires.

 

A landlord can choose not to extend the lease, or not to offer you a new lease. A private landlord doesn’t have to tell you why they won’t renew or extend, unless the lease requires them to give you a reason. However, the landlord cannot discriminate based on:

  • race,

  • color,

  • disability,

  • religion,

  • nationality, or

  • because children are in the household.

Can I continue to live in my unit after the lease ends without a new lease?

In general, when the lease requires a renewal and the term ends without a new contract, the tenancy has terminated on the last day of the lease term. If the landlord accepts rent and lets you stay in the unit, a tenancy-at-will has been created (a tenancy without a written lease). The old lease still applies to you, except that:

  • the landlord can terminate or change the terms (including rent increases) with 60 days notice, and

  • you can terminate the lease with a 30 day notice to the landlord.

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What are my landlord’s rights and responsibilities?

If you want to stay past after your lease ends:

A landlord can choose not to extend the lease, or not to offer you a new lease. A private landlord doesn’t have to tell you why they won’t renew or extend, unless the lease requires them to give you a reason. However, the landlord cannot discriminate based on race, color, disability, religion, nationality, or because children are in the household.

 
If you move before the lease ends:

If a tenant moves out of a rental property before the lease expires, the landlord does not have to re-rent the property. Landlords can allow an abandoned unit to remain vacant and hold tenants responsible for rent that comes due under the lease. This rule applies unless:

  • the landlord accept the surrender of the property, or

  • the tenant terminates the lease by following the language of an early termination provision.

Merely accepting the keys or by entering onto the property is not considered accepting surrender. If your landlord retakes possession of the unit and re-rent the unit or allows others to live in the unit, they cannot hold you responsible for rent.

 
What if my rental property has a new owner?

Generally, a person who buys rental property has to honor existing leases with current tenants. This means that the new owner, who purchased your rental property, must abide by your lease's terms. Any change or modification to the existing lease,  must be done under the terms of the lease. Unless an existing lease allows the owner to terminate or modify, the lease cannot be changed before it expires.

 

If you want to remain a tenant under your lease, you should notify the new owner in writing that you expect them to honor your current lease. But, a tenant can consider the new lease as an offer of a new tenancy and agree to its terms and conditions by signing the new lease. If signed, the new lease will create a new landlord tenant relationship.

 

Different rules apply when a property is purchased at a foreclosure sale.

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What can I do? +

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Can I sublet my unit?

Your lease will tell you if you are allowed to sublet your unit – you usually need to get your landlord’s permission to sublet. If you are the original tenant of the unit, and you lease the unit to someone else, that person is a subtenant. 

You are still responsible for the payment of rent to the landlord and any damages to the unit caused by the subtenant.

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Can I break my rental agreement?

 

Can I move out before the end of the lease term? 

Whether you can get out of the lease depends on what the lease says and the willingness of your landlord to allow the termination. 

  • Some leases will let you terminate the lease early, but require that you give notice and pay a penalty for early termination. For example, you may be required to give a 30 day notice and forfeit your security deposit. 

  • Some leases impose additional costs and require that you give more notice. In this example, you are responsible for paying rent during the notice period (the 30 days). You will have to pay this penalty whether the unit is re-rented right away or if it sits vacant after you leave. If the early termination penalty is unreasonable, you should consider contacting an attorney.

  • Some landlords may let you out of the lease if an acceptable person is found to take over the lease. Some landlords may allow you to sublet. If your landlord agrees to allow an early termination, you should be sure to get in writing any agreement about penalties or future rent owed.

 

If your lease does not allow for early termination, you can be held responsible for payment of any rent for the rest of the lease term. The landlord does not have to re-rent the unit so that you have to pay less.

 

If the landlord does re-rent the property after you move out, any rent the new tenant pays must be subtracted from the amount you owe. For example, if you move out after six months but you have a twelve month lease, you are responsible for the other six months rent. But, if the landlord rents the unit to someone else after four months, you are only responsible for the four months rent while the unit was vacant.

 

If you abandon the unit or terminate the lease early without the landlord’s agreement, the landlord does not have to find another tenant or allow another person to lease the unit. Unless the lease says otherwise, the landlord can allow the unit to remain vacant and hold you responsible for rent through the end of the lease.

 

Can the landlord charge me a penalty if I move out before my lease ends?

Early termination fees are enforceable as a valid liquidated damages clause if:

  1. The injury caused by breach of the lease is difficult or impossible to estimate accurately

  2. The parties intend the amount to cover damages and not act as a penalty

  3. The amount is a reasonable estimate of the landlord's loss due to the early termination of the lease.

 

If these requirements are not met, then the early termination fee cannot be enforced against the tenant.

 

Can I move out if I do not have a written lease?

If you are a tenant-at-will, this means you do not have a written lease. You are required to give your landlord a 30 day notice that you want to terminate the rental agreement. It is best to for you to give this notice in writing.

 

For example: If you give notice to the landlord on July 15th that you want to move
out on August 1st, the lease will not be terminated until August 15th. Please note,
you will still be responsible for the full August rent.

 

If I am being transferred by my employer, can I break my lease?

Generally, you’re not allowed to terminate your lease because you are transferred by your employer, but check your lease to confirm your landlord’s policy. 

 

If I am in active military service and must relocate, can I terminate my lease without penalty?

Yes, under both state and federal law you can terminate your lease early. According to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, you are allowed to terminate your lease if you are an active duty servicemember and you receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or a deployment for a period of 90 days or more. 

Here are the requirements:

  • You originally signed your lease when you were not on any form of active duty.

  • You have received your orders to active duty.

  • You gave written notice to your landlord that you want to terminate your lease and gave him a copy of your orders. 

Once your landlord receives your notice, they can charge you rent for 30 days after the date your next rent is due. Try to get the written notice in the landlord’s hands as soon as possible.

For example: If you give notice on December 15th, and your next rent is normally due January 1st, your landlord can make you pay rent until January 31st. 

 

If my roommate and I both signed a lease but my roommate 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 entire amount of rent owed. 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. However, the apartment complex can only collect the full amount from one of you. You may wish to contact the apartment manager about terminating the lease and offer to pay a portion of the charges to be released from liability for the entire amount.

 

Can I move out because my rental property is in bad condition?

When a tenant cannot live in the unit it is called a “constructive eviction”. You can claim that the property is uninhabitable if it is unfit to live in and if it’s the landlord’s fault that they didn’t make repairs and caused it to become unfit. 

You must prove that:

  1. The landlord failed to keep the rental property repaired and allowed it to get so bad that it became an unfit place for your to live, and

  2. That the property could not be fixed to a livable condition by normal repairs which could be made while you are still a tenant in the unit.

If these two things are proven, you may be relieved of your responsibility to pay rent. 

If you believe you are in a constructive eviction situation, you may want to discuss it with an attorney. If there is a housing code enforcement agency in your city or county, have them inspect the property. 

 

Can I terminate my lease because of domestic violence?

Yes, a tenant has a right to terminate the lease due to domestic violence. A domestic violence victim who has a civil family violence order or whose abuser is under a criminal family violence order can terminate the lease early without penalty. You must give at least 30 days written notice to the landlord. You should keep a copy of the notice and proof of its delivery. The landlord cannot charge an early termination fee or penalty for early termination. The landlord has to process the move out as if it is the last day of the lease. 

 

A civil family violence order is: 

  • Any civil family protective order (TPO) issued after a hearing

  • Any ex parte temporary protective order issued to a victim who has a police report showing a basis for the order 

A criminal family violence order is: 

  • Any order of pretrial release issued as a result of an arrest for an act of family violence

  • Any order for probation issued as a result of a conviction or plea of guilty, nolo contendere, or first offender to an act of family violence

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Can I sue my tenant for moving before the lease ended?

The general rule in Georgia is that if a tenant abandons rental property, before the lease expires, the landlord is not required to mitigate damages by re-letting the apartment. You can allow the abandoned unit to remain vacant and hold the tenant responsible for rent that comes due under the lease. This rule applies unless you accept the tenant's surrender of the property or the tenant successfully terminates the lease by following the language of the early termination provision of the lease. You do not accept the surrender merely be accepting the keys or by entering onto the property. But if you retake possession of the unit and re-rent the unit or allows others to live in the unit, you cannot hold the tenant responsible for rent owed under the lease.

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Resources

Visit the HUD.gov resource for service men and women for questions about mortgage relief, lease termination, and eviction issues under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Last Review and Update: Oct 31, 2019