Owning rental property puts you at risk for legal issues. However, careful tenant selection and adherence to Georgia law can help you avoid this risk. Professional property management in Atlanta is here to help you navigate the tricky waters of federal and state real estate law so you don’t get stuck with hefty court fees and fines.
What Does a Property Owner Need to Disclose?
The Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook is an excellent resource for property owners who are curious about their legal responsibilities. State and federal housing laws are designed to protect both tenants and property owners and should be followed closely.
During the application and lease signing process, a landlord must supply several disclosures. First, landlords must provide a lead-based paint disclosure. The Landlord Tenant Handbook states,
“Landlords who rent units built before 1978 must disclose the presence of all known lead-based paint and lead hazards in the rental unit and common areas, unless the property is determined to be lead-based paint free by a state-certified inspector. Lofts, studios or short term leases of less than 100 days are exempt.”
Second, a property owner or their Atlanta rental management company must provide a flooding disclosure. If your rental home has been damaged by flooding at least three times during the past five years you must provide a disclosure to your tenant prior to lease signing. If a flooding disclosure is not provided the property owner is liable for damages if the property floods again during the terms of the lease.
Third, a list of existing defects and damages must be provided to the tenant. This list serves as a basis for determining how the security deposit is used after the tenant vacates the property. It is important for the tenant to inspect the property when they receive the list to ensure that all defects and damages are included. Within three days of the tenant moving out, the landlord should inspect the property and take note of any damages caused by the tenant so they can be charged accurately. The tenant may also choose to inspect the property and make notes so there are no disputes over damages.
The fourth disclosure a property owner or their professional property management in Atlanta should provide is the disclosure regarding previous residents. It is required to disclose a death that occurred at the property if directly asked.
Some property managers try to cut corners and deal dishonestly with tenants in order to rent out a property quickly. However, failure to provide accurate disclosures to your tenants could result in fines, court fees, and the payment of damages that are a result of a failure to disclose. In addition, not providing the correct disclosures is just ethically wrong. When you are hiring a property management company in Atlanta make sure you find one who follows all rental property laws.
What Else is a Property Owner Responsible For?
According to the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook, “residential landlords have a duty to keep a unit in a safe and habitable condition and in good repair.” When the structure, utilities, or safety of the rental home are in question, it is the landlord’s responsibility to address the issue. Proactive maintenance will help you address any issues with habitability before they get out of hand. Your Atlanta rental management company can help you schedule regular inspections at your rental property.
The Handbook does describe a few important exemptions for making repairs at a rental property.
- A property owner is not responsible for fixing defects that were obvious during move in as long as the defect does not render the home unsafe or unsanitary.
- A property owner does not need to provide carpet cleaning.
- A property owner is not responsible for appliances, air conditioning, or fencing unless these amenities are provided by the property owner.
The best way to avoid disputes about maintenance issues is to be clear in the lease agreement. Your professional property management in Atlanta can help you write up a lease with clear language in order to avoid miscommunication. For more information about lease agreements, visit this page.
What a Tenant Can Do About a Landlord’s Failure to Repair
If you fail to maintain a property you own, your tenant has a few options for how to proceed. Your tenant may take one of four actions against you.
- File a Lawsuit: Tenants may sue their landlords for damages that occurred as a result of a failure to repair the rental property.
- Repair-and-Deduct: Tenants may choose to repair the property on their own and deduct the costs from their monthly rent.
- Contact an Inspector: Tenants may contact a city or county housing code inspector. If the inspector determines the home does not meet property code the tenant can move out and declare the lease is in default.
- Move Out: Tenants may claim “constructive eviction”, move out, and discontinue their rent payments.
If you are a tenant who is considering the above actions, you should talk to your property manager or an attorney before proceeding. For more information, see the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook.
Sometimes a property owner responds and repairs a property within a reasonable amount of time, but the repair requires the tenant to move out. In this case, the property owner is not required to compensate the tenant for damages, but it may be a good idea to do it anyway. Atlanta rental management is a business venture, and your tenant is your customer. If your tenant requests compensation or credit toward their rent, it is worth negotiating.
Georgia Security Deposit Rules
Each state in the United States has its own rules about how much a property owner is allowed to charge for a security deposit. In Georgia there is no limit, meaning a property owner or their professional property management in Atlanta can charge as much as they want. Keep in mind however, you must find a tenant willing to pay the security deposit. Property owners typically charge between half to a whole month’s rent as the security deposit.
What do you need to know about security deposits beyond limits? In Georgia, a security deposit must only be used to cover unpaid rent and damages beyond normal wear and tear. A security deposit is not to be used as a non-refundable pet fee, an application fee, a deposit to hold the rental home, or a cleaning fee. Property owners may not charge a new tenant for damages that happened before the new tenant occupied the property. This is why a list of existing defects, signed by both parties, is so important.
If a property owner owns more than 10 rental properties, or uses an Atlanta rental management company, they are required to hold the security deposit in a bank escrow account. When your tenant moves out, there is a specific set of rules for how to determine damages. Three days after the tenant moves out, the landlord must look at the rental home, determine damages, make a list with estimated dollar values, sign it, and return the list to the tenant. The tenant then has five days to inspect the rental home, review the damages list, and agree or disagree with the landlord’s estimates. The security deposit is then applied to any outstanding rent balance or damages beyond normal wear and tear. If there is any excess the property owner is required to return it to the tenant within 30 days. If your tenant believes you wrongfully withheld part or all of their security deposit, they can sue. The tenant can ask for three times the amount of the security deposit plus attorney fees.
How Professional Property Management in Atlanta Handles Evictions
While professional property management can reduce your risk of eviction, even the best property managers may need to endure it. In Georgia, you can begin the eviction process after non-payment of rent. The lease agreement will stipulate the terms of notice and termination you must abide by. The process to evict a tenant is:
- Surrender and Vacate: The landlord gives notice to the tenant to surrender possession of the property and vacate.
- Dispossessory Affidavit: When a tenant refuses to vacate the landlord can file a dispossessory affidavit. The affidavit, served to the tenant by a sheriff, states the details of the broken lease.
- Affidavit Answer: After the affidavit is served the tenant has 7 days to answer it in writing or in court.
- Court Hearing: A hearing is held by a judge to rule for or against the landlord.
- Writ of Possession: The landlord must request a writ of possession when the court rules in their favor. The writ of possession orders the tenant to move out within 7 days.
Evictions are bad for both the Atlanta rental management and the tenant. Court fees are expensive, and waiting for your tenant to vacate eats up your rental income. Furthermore, making mistakes in the process will only drag it out longer increasing your costs.
Contact Specialized Property Management Atlanta Today
Reduce your risk by working with the experienced property managers at Specialized Property Management Atlanta. Our property managers know how to avoid common landlord mistakes to keep you out of court. And, if evictions or other legal issues arises, we know how to make the process as smooth and quick as possible, saving you money and getting your home back on the market faster. Call us today at 404-596-8454 for a professional rental quote.