I have written often about this topic but it seems that the message seems to be missed by those that most need to hear it.
I have even offered my blogs on this topic directly to certain property owners that I knew needed to hear it and they did not pay necessary heed.
The problem has to do with the landlord not taking full responsibility for maintaining the property. Often times when the property falls into disrepair and the landlord lacks the funds to perform needed maintenance, the tendency of some is to point blame at the property manager, the tenant, or both hoping to avoid the expense. In most cases the maintenance does not get done and that causes big problems.
Georgia statute is clear about the responsibility for maintaining residential property. Simply said, it is that of the landlord. The spirit of the statute could not be clearer ad this has been tested time and again at the bench. Just as there is no excuse for tenants to not pay rent, there is also none for landlords to fail to provide and maintain the property in a good a habitable condition. It is that condition that was agreed to at move-in. This standard must be maintained under the law, or it may be ruled that the property is not worth what was initially agreed. When a landlord fails to do so, Georgia courts generally find for the tenant and award a judgment for diminished value at a minimum.
Not only is it a bad idea for property owners to fail to comply with the maintenance statutes in the landlord-tenant law, doing so also exposes the landlord to significant tort damages if the tenants or their guests are injured on the premises, especially if injury or loss is due to a known material defect or acknowledged unsafe condition. Such matters will probably be tried in superior court as opposed to magistrate’s court. The potential damage awards are far greater there.
I know of one case wherein the landlord failed to allow her property manager to perform necessary maintenance on the property. The property manager had no choice but to early terminate the management agreement to avoid liability exposure for itself. Consequently, the landlord became holder of the security deposit, and was now in sole control of the property having now to make management decisions without the benefit of professional counsel. The landlord still refused to repair the property. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to refund the security deposit at move-out without justifiable grounds.
The property was in deplorable condition even on the day the tenant took first occupancy, and it never got better throughout the lease period. The property condition at move-in was well documented on the move-in inventory and even with photographs. The landlord attempted to shift responsibility for the property’s poor condition onto the tenant and withheld all of the deposit. There was absolutely no justification for this so the tenant retained legal counsel and took it to court.
Not only did the court agree with the tenant that the deposit should be refunded in full, it also awarded the tenant with diminished valued resulting in a refund from the property owner of 50% of the rents that had been paid over the course of the twelve month occupancy. Also awarded were treble damages plus attorney’s fees to cover the tenants’ legal expenses. Treble damages and attorney’s fees are a matter of statute and not just a court opinion.
Because no other tenant prospect was willing to accept the property condition, the landlord had let the property foreclose. Having no revenue stream from rents to help offset the court judgment, the landlord was given 30 days to obtain and deliver the funds. No funds were ever delivered. The landlord was cited for contempt of court, arrested, and put in jail to satisfy the judgment.
It does not have to end this way. Tenants have rights and responsibilities and so do landlords. I hope this message gets heard loudly and clearly by whoever needs to hear it.
Daniel R. Wilhelm
3 Options Realty, LLC., CRMC®, The Green Broker
dan @ 3OptionsRealty.com
The author of this Blog is neither an attorney nor an accountant. Nothing written should be construed as legal advice. Conclusions conveyed are outcomes based upon practical experience and should not be depended upon to be a common outcome of other similar circumstances. Consult with a professional before making tax or legal decisions.