Who is responsible: The landlord or the tenant?

- Renting your home is a convenient way to live where you want at a reasonable cost, all the while maintaining your ability to move quickly if you decide to do so. Yet many renters just sign their lease and move in, and that can cause problems.

Here to help us avoid rental problems is real estate expert, John Adams.

Question: John, is there a way for the renter to know in advance who is responsible for what costs?

Adams: Absolutely.  The key to a happy rental relationship is knowing in advance what you can expect from the landlord and knowing your rights and responsibilities under the lease.

Q:  In a typical lease, who is responsible for what?

 A:  About the only thing we know for sure is that the landlord is responsible for repairs, and the tenant is responsible for paying rent.

Q:  Why is that the only thing we know for sure?

A:  Because that part is spelled out in Georgia landlord-tenant law.

Q:  Is there a limit on how much rent can be?

A:  No, the rent is specified in the lease agreement between the parties.

Q:  And what about repairs?  Is the landlord responsible for everything that might possibly go wrong?

A:  Again, the law in Georgia is vague.  We do know that, in a residential lease, the landlord may not attempt to transfer the obligation to repair to the tenant. Even so, we don’t get much guidance here.

Q:  What other issues might come up?

A:  One typical issue is ongoing maintenance, as opposed to repairs. For example, many leases specify that the tenant is required to mow the lawn as needed. That is usually not considered a repair. 

But who is responsible for changing furnace filters and replacing light bulbs?  Who is responsible for paying for the utilities? And these are simply a few examples.

Q:  So how are these issues decided if they are not addressed by Georgia law?

A:  If the landlord and the tenant are smart, all these issues are spelled out in the lease agreement, so there will be no question as to who is responsible for what!

Q:  Why is the lease so important?

A:  Because it is the written agreement between the parties detailing your relationship with the landlord. In a nutshell, the renter’s responsibility is to pay rent, and the landlord’s responsibility is to keep the premises in good repair.

But most leases today go into much more detail and cover lots of situations.

Q:  Can you give us some examples?

Sure. In addition to spelling out the monthly rental amount and the exact dates of move-in and move out, the lease will specify what happens if you are late with the rent, or if you become unable to pay.

It will also spell out how to contact the landlord when repairs become necessary, and how you must leave the premises in order to get your security deposit back.

Another common example is insurance. If the house gets hit by lightning, burns down and all the tenant’s stuff is destroyed, who is responsible? Typically, it is not the landlord. That should be in the lease!

Q:  But an average lease can be six or eight pages of fine print. Do I need to read the entire thing?

A:  No, but you do need to understand what it says, so you really should read it word for word, and write down any questions you have.  

Remember that your lease is a legally binding contract, and that you are obligating yourself to pay thousands of dollars to the landlord over the next 12 months.  If you can’t get the answers you need, I recommend talking to a real estate attorney to help you understand.

Q:  But that might cost a hundred dollars, or even more!

A:  True, but if that’s the only way you can know what you are signing, you are much better off paying a lawyer now than defending yourself in court a year from now.

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