Your Rights And Options As A Tenant
Lease agreements are legally binding contracts that typically focus on the responsibilities of the tenant, however landlords have legal obligations to their tenants pursuant to both federal and state law. These legal rights and protections may not be expressed within the lease agreement and it is important for tenants and prospective tenants to understand their rights during the leasing process.
Both the Federal Fair Housing Act and Georgia’s Housing Law protect every individual’s right to equal treatment in any housing matter. This protects all tenants from being discriminated against by their religion, sex, race, familial status, color, disabilities, or national originduring the leasing process. Landlords cannot weigh any of this information when screening potential applicants. This could include:
- Altering lease terms and rental rates based on the potential tenant’s religion, sex, race, etc.
- Denying a potential tenant with children unless it is a designated senior residence
- Denying a potential tenant to maintain a certain racial makeup of the residential community
Landlords are notorious for trying to take advantage of tenants following the conclusion of the lease term. There are federal and state consumer protection laws that provide tenants with additional legal rights and protections. These laws also provide tenants with a way to recover damages from their landlord in the event these rights are violated. Examples may include, but are not limited to:
- Failing to conduct a timely move-out inspection in violation of Georgia law.
- Failing to return, or the untimely return, of a tenant’s security deposit.
- Claiming false damage to the property as a means to wrongfully retain a tenant’s security deposit.
- Making false and fraudulent claims of damage to the property in an attempt to collect more money from the tenant.
- Making reports to the consumer credit reporting agencies about a tenant that are fraudulent and inaccurate.
- Improper use of a tenant or prospective tenants consumer credit report.
Repair and Maintenance
Georgia law requires landlords to repair and maintain their property to ensure that it is safe and in a liveable condition for tenants. Inconveniences such as cosmetic repairs and small-scale issues do not constitute an unlivable environment and typically do not need to urgently be resolved. Unlivable conditions can endanger the health and wellbeing of a tenant such as:
- Lack of utilities such as water, heat, or electricity by fault of the landlord
- Pest and rodent infestation
- Lead paint hazards not properly reported by Georgia law
- Structural damage to the residence
- Fire or flood risks not properly reported by Georgia law
- Mold infestation
- § 44-1-16, 44-7-3, 44-7-20, 44-7-33 and EPA’s Lead Paint Law state that Georgia landlords must disclose any defects that tenants can sign and agree with or disagree with.
Federal regulations and Georgia law also hold landlords to a lawful process of eviction. In most cases, landlords are in full compliance when evicting tenants for rightful reasons such as failure to timely make payments, failing to move out at the end of a lease term, or breaches of rental contracts. However, landlords can be held accountable for not properly evicting tenants even if the grounds for eviction are valid. Tenants have rights in the eviction process that can be violated by landlords who:
- Failing to provide the tenant with proper and timely notice of the eviction
- Enter or allow others to enter the residence without notice or permission
- Move any of the tenant’s belongings before the appropriate time
- Harass the tenant
- Spread the tenant’s information to others
- Shut off utilities at the residence
- Change locks and codes without notifying the tenant
- Retaliate after the tenant files complaints
When looking at leasing your next home or apartment, take time to do research on who will be managing the property and talk to past tenants, if possible. Thoroughly inspect the potential residence and address any concerns before the application process. If you’re facing unexpected problems from your landlord, understand you have the right as a tenant to take action as well. Tenants are legally entitled to a leasing process that is upheld by both parties fairly, even through eviction. Record all evidence and records of communication when you are experiencing mistreatment from your landlord, and contact an expert attorney at Smith, Welch, Webb and White to help you take action.