Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Georgia
If you're a renter, you should learn about the legal grounds for eviction, process and if you have the right to fight your eviction.
In Georgia, a landlord may evict a tenant for not paying rent or for violating a portion of the lease or rental agreement. A tenant may have a legal defense to challenge an eviction. This article will summarize the eviction process in Georgia and detail some of the most common defenses available to tenants in Georgia.
The Eviction Process in Georgia
In Georgia, evictions lawsuits, also called dispossessory proceedings, are governed by the landlord and tenant chapter of the Georgia code. The legal cites included in this article refer to the relevant sections of the Georgia code.
Although state law entitles a landlord to evict a tenant for not paying rent or for violating a portion of the rental or lease agreement (see OCGA §44-7-50), the law does not provide detail as to how and when the tenant must be notified of the eviction proceedings. The landlord must demand possession of the rental unit, either orally or in writing, and the tenant must refuse to give the landlord possession before the landlord can file an affidavit with the court to begin the eviction proceedings (see OCGA §44-7-50). There is no set time frame for how long the landlord must give the tenant before filing the paperwork for the eviction proceedings.
After the landlord files the affidavit with the court, the tenant will receive a copy of the affidavit and a summons. The tenant will then have seven days to file an answer with the court, if the tenant so chooses. The seven-day time frame includes weekends and holidays, but if the seventh day falls on a weekend or holiday, the tenant will have until the following business day to file the answer with the court (see OCGA § 44-7-51).
The summons will have a date for the hearing, where the judge will hear the landlord's and the tenant's sides of the case. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must respond to the answer and appear at the hearing. At the hearing, the judge will make a final decision about whether the tenant will be evicted.
For more information on how to answer an eviction affidavit, see the pamphlet How to Answer an Eviction Warrant, published by Georgia Legal Aid.
It may not always be in the tenant's best interest to challenge an eviction. The tenant could end up paying for all of the landlord's court and attorneys' fees if the tenant loses the case. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating. The tenant's best option might be to try to negotiate an agreement with the landlord outside of the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate. com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
That said, there may be very good reasons why a tenant may want to fight an eviction in Georgia, as discussed in the following section.
Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Georgia
This section describes some of the most common grounds tenants may have to fight an eviction in Georgia.
Landlord Evicted Tenant Using "Self-Help" Procedures
Landlords cannot evict a tenant without receiving a court order. It is illegal for a landlord to try to evict a tenant through any other means, such as shutting off utilities (see OCGA § 44-7-14.1) or changing the locks at the rental unit. Such actions are called self-help evictions. If the landlord does try to evict the tenant using self-help procedures, the landlord could end up owing the tenant monetary damages. See the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Georgia for more information.
Landlord Is Evicting Tenant For Not Paying Rent
A tenant might have a legal defense available to challenge an eviction for nonpayment of rent.
Tenant Has Paid Rent in Full
If the landlord is evicting the tenant for not paying the rent, the tenant can stop the eviction by paying the rent in full, including any applicable court fees, within seven days of receiving the summons for the eviction lawsuit. The tenant is only allowed to stop the eviction like this once within a twelve-month period (see OCGA § 44-7-52).
Landlord Has Not Made Necessary Repairs
The landlord has a responsibility to keep the rental unit in good repair (see OCGA § 44-7-13). Although Georgia statutes are silent on the subject, case law seems to suggest that if the landlord fails to make a necessary repair (that is, a repair that goes beyond the normal wear and tear of the rental unit, like the water heater quitting), then the tenant can arrange for the repair and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent.
Landlord Evicted Tenant for Discriminatory Reasons
The federal Fair Housing Act and the Georgia Fair Housing Act make it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. If a tenant is evicted based on any of these characteristics, then the tenant can use the fair housing act as a defense against the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Tenant Resources for Challenging an Eviction in Georgia
Although Georgia has not passed too many laws regulating evictions, there are a number of resources available to tenants who need help with challenging an eviction. The Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook, published by the State of Georgia, provides many answers to commonly asked eviction-related questions. GeorgiaLegalAid.org also provides eviction-related articles and pamphlets with more information for tenants. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Your local court is also a good resource, since eviction cases are filed in the county courthouse where the rental unit is located. They are specifically filed at the magistrate court. Visit the Georgia court's online directory to find your county magistrate court.
When to Hire an Experienced Tenants’ Lawyer
If you have questions about your eviction case or defense or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you have a complicated case or if you are confident of winning and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Attorney.
Also check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for Georgia lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
More Information on Evictions and Terminations
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).