Eviction and Renting in Georgia During the Coronavirus Pandemic- What Rights do Renters Have?

Katie Lyon
 | 

Over three million people rent apartments and other housing units in Georgia, making it the sixth-highest state with a renting population.  

Unfortunately, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab and Columbia Law School Professor Emily Benfer, Georgia ranks very low among states trying to help renters who are on the verge of eviction. 

So if you are a renter in Georgia, your concerns and confusions are more than justified. 

Even though Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order on May 12th that began to reopen the state, many tenants are still struggling to pay their rent.

After all, not every business chose to reopen, and those that did can’t cater to as many customers as they once could due to social distancing guidelines.

According to Politico, despite the state’s reopening, weekly applications for jobless benefits in Georgia still lead the country. Over 40% of workers in Georgia — two out of every five — have been out of work since mid-March. 

 

So if you live in Georgia and haven’t or can’t pay your rent, you’re not alone. 

Here are your Georgia-specific answers to some of the most frequent questions we receive at Court Buddy from tenants concerned about paying rent.

Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19? 

 

Regardless of where you live in the United States, the federal CARES Act prevents landlords from filing eviction notices for failure to pay rent until July 25th. 

However, this is not catch-all protection. You may still be evicted before July 25th:

  • If you were already being evicted. The CARES Act does not inhibit your landlord from continuing the process of evicting you.
  • If you are being evicted for reasons other than being delinquent on unpaid charges. The CARES Act only protects against evictions due to your failure to pay rent or other fees. 
  • If you live in a property that is not covered by the CARES Act, including those without a federally backed mortgage or which do not participate in a federal program. Some qualifying programs include Section 42 tax credits and Section 8 vouchers. 

In other words, Georgia tenants living in properties unprotected by the CARES Act can still be evicted -  even if you lost your job due to COVID-19. 

What happens if I was already being evicted, or my landlord is threatening to evict me for reasons unrelated to my unpaid charges?

Unlike other states, Georgia has not passed any statewide protections against any and all evictions in response to COVID-19. So if you were already being evicted, the following may still continue to happen during this time:

  • Eviction hearings may still be scheduled and held over teleconference.
  • Eviction judgments may still be decided.
  • Law enforcement can still enforce non-emergency eviction orders, including for non-payment of rent. This means that 30 days after receiving written notice, law enforcement can still escort you out of your unit and lock you out. 

If you are concerned about being evicted, it is always best to talk to your landlord directly, and explain your situation. 

For more resources, including sample letters to send to your landlord for seeking rent relief, visit Court Buddy’s Landlord-Tenant resources page. 

What happens at the end of the 120-day federal moratorium on evictions on July 25th? 

While some states have extended the moratorium on evictions, Georgia has not implemented any legislation to prevent evictions during and after shelter-in-place. 

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta did issue a 60-day moratorium on evictions and filings beginning on March 16th. But as of May 16th, it has officially expired.

This means that now, the CARES Act is the last line of defense against the eviction of Georgia residents. It, too, will expire soon.

On July 25th, the Eviction Lab’s policy scorecard for Georgia indicates that landlords may:

  • issue eviction notices, giving tenants 30-days notice before locking them out
  • file to evict tenants who have suffered financial hardship related to the pandemic
  • hold tenants immediately responsible for paying a rental debt that accrues during the pandemic, without a grace period
  • charge late fees 

Can I pay partial rent?

In short, yes. But it may not be worth it, especially if you don’t have a written agreement with your landlord that this is OK. 

During LawChamps' Legal Meetup on May 8th, Michael Neumann, Esq affirmed, “If you can't pay your rent because you don't have enough money, don't pay your rent.” 

However, your landlord is still entitled to collect all rental debt you accrue during this moratorium. 

This means that any rent you fail to pay now, you will have to pay later. 

You may also be responsible for the entirety of your unpaid charges when the federal moratorium ends on July 25th, since Georgia law has not mandated a grace period.

If you are unable to pay the entirety of your rent, it is best to keep your landlord informed. 

For more resources, including sample letters to send to your landlord, visit LawChamps' Landlord-Tenant resources page. 

Can my landlord charge me late fees?

No. At least not right now.

The CARES Act stipulates that landlords can’t charge fees, penalties, or other charges for nonpayment of rent through July 25th.

However, you may be charged late fees after the moratorium ends if you are unable to pay your unpaid balance on July 25th.

Can my landlord lock me out?

Right now, the CARES Act protects you from being locked out or evicted for non-payment.

You also cannot be locked out immediately on July 25th when the federal moratorium ends. 

Georgia law requires your landlord to first file an affidavit with the court to begin eviction proceedings, after which you must receive a copy of the paperwork and a court summons. It is not until after this hearing that a judge will make the final decision about the eviction. 

Before any of this happens, it is illegal for your landlord to lock you out or shut off your utilities. 

All in all, you cannot be locked out until at least 30 days after July 25th, when eviction proceedings can begin again and you can begin to receive your legally required written notice.

I rent a low-income housing unit in Atlanta. Are there any additional protections or relief programs available to me?

If you are one of the approximately 50,000 residents of an Atlanta Housing (AH) owned property, you may have heard about a 60-day rent reduction available to people who have suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19. 

While this program is set to finish when shelter-in-place does in May, “extended hardships” are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

See here for more information on Atlanta-specific rental relief.

 

If you are looking for more resources, check out some more advice here. Feel free to utilize LawChamps' self help resources or reach out to us for more help.

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

 

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