Significant Change to Landlord Tenant Law in Georgia
During the 2018 General Assembly the State of Georgia passed, and Governor Deal signed into law:
§ 44-7-23. Termination of residential lease after issuance of civil family violence order or criminal family violence order; notice; occupancy…
This law took effect on July 1, 2018 and applies to all residential leases, or renewals, that take effect after that date. The entire language is copied below for your review. The primary clause which impacts landlords and property managers is “The tenant shall not be liable for any other fees, rent, or damages due to the early termination of the tenancy as provided for in this Code section”. If one of your tenants provides the notice as required in the law (in short, a copy of the court order and the police report establishing the tenant as a victim of domestic violence), then that tenant has the right to “terminate his or her residential rental or lease agreement”. The law does not say that only the victim is released, it says the lease is terminated. The lease being terminated means all parties are released from it, even if the abuser was also a party to the lease.
Best Practice – if you receive such a notification from one of your tenants, and that tenant establishes the last day of residency not earlier than 30 days from the date of notice, then process their move out as if that is the last day of their lease per your lease document. There will be no penalty for failure to provide more notice, if your lease requires that, and there will be no penalty for terminating early. However the tenant is still liable for any damages to the property as a result of their abuse or neglect of the property (not normal wear & tear). Any additional parties to that lease are also released due to the fact that the “lease is terminated”. Now you need to determine whether you want to create a new lease with any of the adults that wish to remain in the property. If one of the parties that want to remain is the same one that committed the domestic abuse, then perhaps you do not want to keep them as tenants. If other adults that were on the prior lease express their desire to remain in the property, then you should re-qualify them as you would a new applicant to confirm that they have the financial capability of honoring the lease now that one of the other tenants has moved out. How will the departing tenant’s income effect the total income of the remaining tenants? Was the departing tenant the primary tenant, and their good credit is what got the applicants approved initially? Has the credit worthiness or employment status of any remaining tenant changed since they were initially approved? While “turning” a rental house is expensive, it will be a lot less expensive to handle the turn now rather than have to go through an eviction action with the remaining tenants later.
Reminder – We have a lot of service members in Georgia. JAG Officers and service members are familiar with the Service Members Civil Relief Act which covers the entire U.S. However, Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 44-7-22) requires only a 30 day notice to vacate which is more restrictive than federal law and very similar to this new law under O.C.G.A. 44-7-23.
Conclusion – Knowing the law and abiding by the law is much less painful and costly than having someone in a black robe explain the law to you.
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§ 44-7-23. Termination of residential lease after issuance of civil family violence order or criminal family violence order; notice; occupancy
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) "Civil family violence order" means:
(A) Any protective order issued pursuant to Article 1 of Chapter 13 of Title 19, provided that the respondent was present or had notice of the hearing that resulted in the issuance of such order; or
(B) Any ex parte temporary protective order issued pursuant to Article 1 of Chapter 13 of Title 19, provided that it is accompanied by a police report showing a basis for such order.
(2) "Criminal family violence order" means:
(A) Any order of pretrial release issued as a result of an arrest for an act of family violence; or
(B) 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.
(3) "Family violence" shall have the same meaning as set forth in Code Section 19-13-1.
(b) A tenant may terminate his or her residential rental or lease agreement for real estate effective 30 days after providing the landlord with a written notice of termination when a civil family violence order or criminal family violence order has been issued:
(1) Protecting such tenant or his or her minor child; or
(2) Protecting such tenant when he or she is a joint tenant, or his or her minor child, even when such protected tenant had no obligation to pay rent to the landlord.
(c) The notice to the landlord pursuant to subsection (b) of this Code section shall be accompanied by a copy of the applicable civil family violence order or criminal family violence order and a copy of the police report if such order was an ex parte temporary protective order.
(d) Upon termination of a residential rental or lease agreement under this Code section, the tenant may occupy the real estate until the termination is effective. Such tenant shall be liable for the rent due under such agreement prorated to the effective date of the termination, payable at such time as would have otherwise been required by the terms of such agreement, and for any delinquent or unpaid rent or other sums owed to the landlord prior to the termination of such agreement. The tenant shall not be liable for any other fees, rent, or damages due to the early termination of the tenancy as provided for in this Code section. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, if a tenant terminates a residential rental or lease agreement pursuant to this Code section 14 or more days prior to occupancy, no damages or penalties of any kind will be assessable.
(e) This Code section shall apply to all residential real estate rental or lease agreements entered into on or after July 1, 2018, and to any renewals, modifications, or extensions of such agreements in effect on such date. This Code section shall not be waived or modified by the agreement of the parties under any circumstances.