Rental leases give landlords rights, too


You’ve been a great renter for the past five years. You always pay your rent - never complain - and you really like the community you live in. You haven’t even talked to the landlord since you moved in. And now you get a notice of termination - for no reason whatsoever. Really? Can your landlord get away with that?

Here are some questions I am frequently asked about eviction:

Q: Can your landlord just wake up one morning and kick you out?

A: Well, the short answer is “yes,” but there are some protections built into Georgia law that we need to talk about.

Q: But that hardly seems fair. I mean, you’ve paid the rent on time and taken good care of the place. What about fairness or loyalty?

A: Well, fair is a rather subjective term, so let’s look at the facts:

1. You are a renter. That means you do not own the property in which you live. And the law assumes that you are going to live there for a finite period. Thirty years or 30 days, it doesn’t matter, you still don’t own the place.

2. If you have no lease agreement, and just pay your rent every month, you are considered a “tenant-at-will.” Under Georgia law, the landlord is required to give you a notice of at least 60 days before requiring you to move out. After that, you can be evicted.

Q: So that doesn’t sound like much notice to me.

A: Well, remember this: under this type of arrangement, you only have to give the landlord 30 days notice and you can move out without any penalty.

Q: Do most folks rent as “tenants-at-will”?

A: No, most renters in Georgia are renting under some form of written lease agreement. That lease will spell out the terms of the relationship between the parties, including how long it will last — usually 12 to 24 months.

Q: So, why would anyone want to be a “tenant-at-will”?

A: Because it gives them the ability to pack up and move in thirty days, and some folks want (or even need) that flexibility.

Q: OK, let’s get back to the lease agreement. Can the landlord evict a renter for no reason?

A: The answer is still yes, but now there are certain terms and conditions that the landlord and tenant must abide by.

For example, most residential leases in Georgia are designed to last one year in duration. That represents a compromise between the landlord and the tenant.

The landlord gives up possession of the property for a full year, and in exchange, the renter agrees to pay rent for twelve months in a row. So long as the renter pays the rent on time and doesn’t break the terms of the lease, he gets to stay for exactly twelve months.

Q: What is an example of a term the renter might break?

A: In most leases, renters are forbidden to store explosives on the property. If the landlord discovers your dynamite shed, he can demand that you remove it. If you refuse, he can evict you.

Q: But assuming I follow the rules, is there any way for the landlord to just kick me out?

A: Yes. Every lease agreement has a beginning date and a termination date. It may be for 30 days or it may be for 30 years, but it must have a termination date. And on that date, the landlord will be expecting you to vacate the premises.

Q: What if I want to stay?

A: That’s between you and the landlord. After the termination date, you have no legal right to remain on the premises unless you get an extension or you renew your lease. And the landlord has no obligation to do either of those things.

Q: Would a landlord ever do that?

A: Yes, it happens all the time! For example, let’s say a landlord owns a rental house and rents it to you for 21 consecutive years. You are very happy and want to stay forever. But the owner’s daughter just graduated from college and wants a home of her own. So daddy decides to give her your house. You must move on your termination date.

Q: Is that really fair?

A: Yes, I think it is - you knew when you signed the lease that you weren’t buying a lifetime stay. And you retain the right to move out if you decide you want to relocate. I think that’s a fair arrangement.

Q: What’s the best way to avoid this problem?

A: The solution is to either sign a longer term lease to begin with, or at least contact the landlord several months in advance of your termination date, and go ahead and sign an extension of your lease now.

The bottom line: Just as you have the right to not renew whenever your lease is up, the landlord has the right to not renew for any reason at the end of your lease. If you want permanency, buy your own house!

Atlanta native John Adams is a broker, broadcaster, and writer who owns and manages residential real estate in Georgia. He answers any and all real estate questions on his award winning radio show every Sunday at 11 a.m. on WGKA 920am. You can contact John through his website at Money99.com.



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