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What should I know about renting a home?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Renting a home in Georgia Tips Resources

Renting a home in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What are my rights?

What are my rights when there is a written lease?

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 a lease.

 

The landlord is the person who is leasing the property to the renter. Usually, the landlord owns the property. You are the person who leases the property and who agrees to pay the rent to the landlord. This means you are the tenant. Georgia law requires that once the lease is signed you must be given the name and address of the property owner or their authorized agent. You should also be given the name and address of the person authorized to manage the property.

 

The lease is important because it usually tells you:

  • when you’re moving in,

  • how long you’ll be there (also known as the “term of the lease”),

  • how much the rent is,

  • when the rent is due, and

  • your responsibilities and the landlord’s responsibilities.

 

The lease binds you to the property for a specified amount of time. So, if you are planning to live in the unit for a very short period of time, you may not want a lease. But, keep in mind, that a non-written lease for less than a year is still binding, so it is important to know its terms. Also, leases can be made for any length of time, so you could ask the landlord if the lease could be written for the time period you expect to live in the unit. Or, you can ask that the lease  allows the tenant to leave without a penalty if you are forced to move by your employer.

 

The landlord-tenant relationship begins:

  • at the time that the lease is signed or

  • when you enter the property, whichever 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.

 

What are my rights when there is no written lease?

When you rent a property after talking to a landlord and are making rent payments without a written lease, you’re known as a “tenant-at-will.” You have the right to rent the property on whatever terms you and the landlord have agreed upon.

 

According to Georgia law, you must give 30 days notice to the landlord if you want to leave or change your original agreement.

 

Your landlord must give you 60 days notice if they want you to move out or to change your original agreement. This means that they must give you 60 days notice if they are going to increase the rent.

 

  • If you are unwilling to pay the rent increase, you must:

  • continue to pay the old rent, and

  • move out at the end of the 60 day period.

If you fail to pay the rent, the landlord does not have to tell you 60 days before that you need to move out. If you fail to pay the rent, the landlord can demand possession and file an eviction right away.

 

Even if there is no written lease, tenants and landlords still have to do certain things, which you can read about below.

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What are my responsibilities? 

Your responsibilities as a tenant include:

  • Pay rent on time,

  • Keep the house/apartment clean,

  • Take out the trash,

  • Do not destroy or damage the house or apartment,

  • 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.

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What are my landlord’s responsibilities?

A landlord's responsibilities include:

  • Landlords must get a court order to force you to leave,

  • Landlords cannot turn off the water, electricity, or gas,

  • 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,

  • 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.

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How do I protect my rights?

To protect your rights under your lease, you should:

  • 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

  • At the end of your tenancy, your landlord may keep your security deposit only if:

  • you are moving out and you owe rent, or

  • if the house or apartment needs to be repaired or cleaned after you move out

  • 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.


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What can I do? +

Contents


How do I 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.  This will give you information about rental properties like:

    • 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 or

  • Check online housing websites.

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How do I rent a home?

1. Go see the unit

Go see the home or apartment before you sign a lease or pay a deposit:

  • Don’t rent a unit – meaning don’t pay any money, don’t sign a lease – without seeing the actual unit that you will be renting.

  • Make sure the utilities work, and try to talk to the neighbors, before signing or paying.

  • Check the state of the apartment and make sure everything is in good working order. Get any promises to repair the apartment in writing.

  • Ask questions about the rent and what it covers, and whether there will be a security deposit.

 

2. Submit a rental application
  • Pay the application fee. Application fees may be required and they are usually not refundable if the application is denied or if you change your mind.

  • Fill out the application. Landlords may ask for:

    • your name,

    • your social security number,

    • your current landlord’s name,

    • your employer’s name,

    • your job title and income,

    • your past employment information,

    • references.

Landlords may require that you consent to a credit and criminal background check. Credit reporting agencies can also give information about you to a possible landlord without your consent.

 

3. Review and Sign the Lease

 

When your application is approved, you will enter into an agreement or contract with the owner of the property by signing a lease. Your lease should be in writing. If you do not understand the lease, make sure to ask someone to explain it to you. You can find help from a lawyer or housing counselor before signing the lease. By signing the lease, it means that you understand everything that the papers say and that you agree with them. Make sure the lease does not have any fees or costs that you do not understand.  Make sure you get a copy of the lease and keep it in a safe place.

Can I ask the landlord to change anything in my lease?

You can ask the landlord to add, remove, or change things written in the lease before you pay any security deposit. But, a landlord doesn’t have to make the changes you asked for.

Can I change my mind after I sign a lease but before I move in?

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.

 

4. Make a security deposit

 

A security deposit is a sum of money that you give your landlord or property management company before you move in. This is in addition to rent payments. You can think of a security deposit as insurance against any kind of damage 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.

  • A security deposit does not include:

    • non-refundable 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.

  • If your application is rejected, but you already paid the security deposit, the landlord must return the security deposit within 30 days.  Always get a receipt for any money you give a landlord.

 

5. Conduct a move-in inspection

 

Whether or not a form is provided, always complete a move-in inspection checklist of repair issues and keep a copy. 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 or who have 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. Landlords who must do a move-in inspection cannot keep your the security deposit if they don't perform the inspection before you move in.

 

If you would like something repaired, you should get the landlord to agree to the repair in writing. A landlord can later deny agreeing to a repair if you do not get it in writing.

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What does my landlord have authority over?

  • Guests: A landlord cannot limit a tenant's visitors unless they are disturbing other tenants or violating the terms of the lease. However, a tenant should be careful not to allow a visitor to stay overnight too many times in a row because it may appear to the landlord that the visitor has moved into the unit which might be a violation of the lease. It is best to talk with your landlord if they object to any guests you have. If your landlord is objecting to your guest’s visits because they are prejudiced due to your guest’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, or disability that is discrimination and violates the Fair Housing Act.

  • Pets: If your lease states you cannot have pets, your landlord can enforce the lease rule even if the rule was not previously enforced. To enforce the lease rule, the landlord only needs to give you notice that they wants you to abide by the rule now. If you fail to remove the pet, the landlord may terminate your lease and seek to evict you. However, if your landlord had agreed in writing to allow you to keep your pet and waive the no pet lease term, they would not be able to later change their mind and ask you to remove your pet.

  • House Rules: It is likely that your lease contains language in which you agreed to follow the landlord's House Rules. Depending on the language of your lease, if you violate a House Rule, your landlord could terminate your lease and file action to evict you. Most courts will uphold a landlord's rules as long as they are reasonable. You should have been given a copy of the House Rules before you signed your lease. Read the rules carefully and if you object to any of them contact your landlord to discuss the matter before you move-in. If you strongly disagree with the House Rules, you could ask your landlord to let you out of your lease since you were not aware of them when you signed your lease.

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What can I do about noise from my neighbor?

A tenant has the right to be free from the conduct of other tenants which causes disruption, inconvenience, or damage. The tenant should first contact the landlord and report the problem. The tenant may contact the police, if the neighbor's conduct would constitute disturbing the peace. If the conduct continues, the tenant needs to continue requesting that the landlord address the disturbing conduct. If the landlord refuses to address the problem, the tenant can ask to be released from the lease or transferred to another unit. 

 

The neighbors' conduct must be considered disruptive to an ordinary, reasonable person. Therefore, tenants who are hypersensitive to noise or who have unreasonable expectations would have difficulty proving that the noise and activities complained of violate their right to use and enjoy their unit. This would be especially true if the noise and activities do not bother other tenants. Tenants who are using and enjoying their apartment in normal, everyday activities are not creating a nuisance.

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Tips


What should I look for in a lease?

  • Names of the tenant, the landlord or the landlord's agent and the person or company authorized to manage the property;

  • A description of the rental unit, listing the appliances included in the unit and the heat and cooling source. If it is a house, a description of the property rented;

  • The time period for which the property is rented and the date the lease ends;

  • The amount of rent and the date it is due, including any grace period, late charges or return check charges;

  • How rent is to be delivered to the landlord and whether payment may be made by check, money order or cash;

  • How to terminate the agreement prior to the expiration date and what, if any, charges will be imposed;

  • The amount of the security deposit and the account where it is held;

  • Utilities furnished by the landlord and, if the landlord charges for such utilities, how the utility charge will be calculated;

  • Amenities and facilities on the premises which the tenant is entitled to use such as swimming pool, laundry or security systems;

  • Rules and regulations such as pet rules, noise rules and whether or not breaking such rules can be grounds for eviction;

  • Identification of parking available, including designated parking spaces, if provided;

  • Pest control, if provided, and how often;

  • How tenant repair requests are handled and procedures for emergency requests;

  • Under what circumstances the landlord can enter the property and with what notice to the tenant

Tips:
  • 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.

Be careful of leases that say/allow:
  • Automatic renewal of the lease for a specified time;

  • An extremely long lease term with penalties for early termination;

  • Automatic rent increases during the lease term;

  • References to rules that were not provided to you;

  • Any attempt by the landlord to make you responsible for repairs;

  • Leases that say that you have to pay the landlord directly for utilities rather than being billed by the utility provider;

  • Language that requires you to pay the landlord’s attorney fees if the landlord hires an attorney to enforce the lease (unless the language also makes the landlord responsible for paying your attorney’s fees);

  • Lease terms that say that the landlord can evict you without going through the dispossessory (eviction) process;

  • Lease terms that require you to have renter’s insurance;

  • You shouldn’t agree to lease provisions that allow the landlord to terminate your lease on just a 30-day notice


Renter's insurance

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 renters insurance.


Conduct a move-in inspection

Whether or not a form is provided, always complete a move-in inspection checklist of repair issues and keep a copy.

Resources

Tenants’ Rights:

  • Visit our What to Know About Leases resource to learn more about leases, what should be in the lease, and answers to common questions.

  • Read the Tenants' Rights Brochure to learn about protecting yourself before you even sign a lease, while you are renting, when you move out, and what to do if your landlord tries to evict you. 

  • Read the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook to get answers to commonly asked questions about renting a home.

  • Visit our Rental Repairs page to learn more about your landlord’s responsibilities.

  • 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.

Security Deposit:

Credit Score and Background Check:

 

Video

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Last Review and Update: Oct 31, 2019