ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Your relationship with your landlord may not always be a cordial one.
Let’s say you rent an apartment and one day, you’ve got an electrical problem. You start blowing fuses daily, and there are sparks every time you turn on the lights. You ask the landlord to fix the problem, but he ignores you. What can you do?
Real estate expert John Adams has some ideas on the issue of landlord retaliation.
Let’s say your landlord refuses to make a repair, and after a while, you get fed up. It might even be a dangerous situation. So you call the county inspector and ask for a safety inspection.
The inspector comes by, finds a safety violation, and orders the landlord to fix the problem.
Next thing you know, you get an eviction notice. Is there a way to fight back?
There is now! It’s called the Georgia Landlord Retaliation law, and in a nutshell, it says that a landlord can not retaliate against you for requesting repairs of reporting unsafe or illegal conditions to the appropriate authorities.
Under the new law, if you report an unsafe or illegal condition to the proper county or state authorities, and then your landlord attempts to retaliate against you, you have the right to sue the landlord in state court.
And if the judge agrees with you, the landlord gets hit pretty hard.
The judge may order your landlord to pay the tenant an amount equal to one month’s rent, plus up to $500 additional, plus pay for all your legal costs. That could easily run as high as $3,000 in total, maybe more. So it’s usually just easier (and less expensive) to fix the problem in the first place.
If you report an unsafe or illegal condition to the proper authorities, your landlord may not retaliate against you. That includes
- Attempting to evict you
- Raising your rent, and/or
- Reducing your services
The law specifically states that if the tenant is behind on the rent, then the landlord retaliation law does not apply, so tenants are prevented from using this law as a way of avoiding rent.
Under this new law, if a tenant files a complaint regarding the health and safety of their living conditions, landlords are prohibited for three months from retaliating or evicting a tenant. During that three-month period, landlords can’t raise rent or terminate a lease unless the landlord can prove that their action was not retaliatory.
How could a landlord prove that their action was NOT retaliatory? Well, if the original lease has run its course and the lease agreement expires, the landlord is allowed to refuse to re-rent the property to anyone.
Likewise, if the lease term expires, the landlord is allowed to re-negotiate the rent. There are no limits on rental amounts in Georgia, so a landlord may ask whatever he wants.
In that situation, if you choose to NOT pay the new higher rent, you would be forced to move since your lease naturally terminated.
Are there any other ways the landlord can raise my rent if I complain, and still get away with it?
Yes, but the exceptions to the new law are very limited. For example, an increase might be found to NOT be retaliatory if it was part of a previously scheduled increase or if it was tied to tax increases, but even then the landlord would have to prove that it was not retaliatory.
BOTTOM LINE: In Georgia, the tenant is required to pay rent, and the landlord is required to make repairs. Good communication is the key to getting along with your landlord. If a repair truly needs to be made, make sure your landlord knows about it. If he refuses to make that repair, consult a real estate attorney.