Renter Rights

IMPORTANT: Information on this website is provided for reference and is not intended as legal advice, nor does it constitute legal advice. Before deciding on any actions, be sure to consult all current local, state, and federal laws and/or retain professional legal counsel.

Know your rights as a tenant in the Athens, GA, area

Tenants do have legally protected rights in the state of Georgia. While this site can familiarize you with some of the basics, every landlord/tenant situation is different depending on the actual circumstances. Which means that the way state and local laws apply to you individually can vary from one instance to another. With that in mind, here are some of the most common issues you should seek to inform yourself about if you rent in Georgia.

Are you a “tenant” or a “guest”?

In most cases, a tenant has a lease and a guest is staying somewhere — such as a hotel, resort, AirBnB, or friend’s or relative’s home — temporarily and without a lease. Tenants have certain rights which guests do not enjoy.

That said, providing any compensation or even agreeing to do so in exchange for living in a home owned by someone else may constitute a tenant-landlord relationship in Georgia without a lease, as could receiving mail at that address, or a spoken agreement allowing someone to live in a home or on a property. For this reason, it is critical that you (a) have a lease if you want to ensure that your rights as a tenant are protected, and (b) understand your lease’s conditions about houseguests and sublets.

Example case 1: You’re renting a two-bedroom home or apartment and your niece asks to stay with you for a bit while she looks for a new job. She agrees to walk your dogs and pay a portion of the utility bills while she’s there, and she submits a change-of-address with the Post Office to get her mail delivered to your mailbox. This arrangement could establish a sublease, and if your lease forbids subletting, it might get you evicted! Alternately, if you decide it’s time for your niece to move on and she has nowhere else to go, she might claim tenant protection and refuse to leave, requiring a formal eviction process and associated expenses.

Example case 2: You rent a room above a garage from a friend. There is no lease, but your friend has invited you to “stay as long as you need to”. You pay each month in cash and get no receipt. At some point, your friend changes his mind and asks you to leave. You may be protected by tenant’s rights if you want to stay, but without a lease you’re going to have to prove it first.

Bottom line, to ensure your rights as a tenant are protected, always get a signed lease, read it carefully and keep a copy, and get a dated receipt for every rent payment. Know the policy on houseguests and sublets, and ask your landlord about any language that’s not clear to you. To avoid creating a “tenant at will” situation, be sure overnight houseguests agree on how long they will be staying (preferably by email or text) and do not accept any money or services as compensation for them staying with you.

Before signing a lease


If your prospective landlord requires an application fee, be sure to ask whether it (a) is refundable or (b) will be applied toward your first month’s rent if you sign a lease. (Option B is much more common than option A.) If the answer to either question is yes, be sure that’s in writing in a document from the landlord before you pay any money.

It is common for applications to ask for your Social Security number and income, as well as information about current and past employment, rental history, and personal references. You may also be required to consent to a credit history check and background check.


Landlords with more than 10 rental units, or who employ a property management agent, are required to perform a pre-lease walk-through of the actual rental unit (not a model) with the prospective tenants, and to provide a list (signed by both parties) of all existing damage prior to accepting the security deposit. It’s a good idea to take photos or video of the walk-through if you can.

If renting from an independent landlord with 10 or fewer rental units, you should ask for a pre-lease walk-through if one is not offered and get a signed list of damages before signing the lease, even though it’s not required by law. In either case, if possible, wait to sign the lease until after all the items you want fixed have been repaired to your satisfaction.

Remember, recovering your security deposit when you move out will depend on demonstrating that the unit is in the same or better condition as when you moved in, except for normal wear and tear. The signed pre-inspection list and any photos or videos you take (as long as the date they were taken can be established) are your evidence for the initial condition of the home, so keep these records in a safe place.

Important: Your landlord is NOT required to repair any of the damages noted in the walk-through list unless they render the home unsanitary or unsafe. Nevertheless, you should not attempt to make repairs yourself without your landlord’s written permission. If you make unauthorized changes to a house or apartment you don’t own, you could be required to pay to have it put back the way it was.


Before signing a lease, make sure you read and understand all of it. This takes some time, but down the road it can save hours of time and hassle, and possibly hundreds or thousands of dollars in expenses. If you’re unsure what all the “legalese” means in plain English, it’s a good idea to have an attorney specializing in property law review the document and answer your questions. Always keep a copy of your lease once it’s signed.

Here are common provisions you should expect to find spelled out in your lease:

While a landlord has a great deal of leeway in deciding the terms of the lease, there are limits. All of the following conditions are illegal and are unenforceable if included:


Your landord must provide you in writing with the name and mailing address of the property owner or their authorized agent to receive legally required notices, as well as the name and address of the property manager if there is one. If these names or addresses change during the lease term, the landlord must give you notice within 30 days by mail or by posting it in a common area of a multi-unit complex. If the latter, it is your responsibility to know where such official notices are to be posted, so be sure to ask.

Negotiating a lease

Leases are simply contracts, and therefore are always negotiable. But that doesn’t mean your landlord will be willing to negotiate. As long as there’s a qualified tenant who will sign without negotiating, a landlord typically has little or no motivation to alter the lease in any way. So although you can always ask to have changes made to the lease you’re offered, remember that your prospective landlord is free to say no and walk away. You’re most likely to get a yes if (a) there’s a good reason for the change, and (b) you have a history as an excellent tenant, and (c) there is some benefit to the landlord.

Security deposits

Landlords with more than 10 rental units, or who employ a property management agent, are required to either place your security deposit in an escrow account or post bond with the clerk of superior court. If your security deposit is kept in escrow (whether the above conditions apply or not) the landlord must provide you with the name of the bank and the account number in writing.

Landlords in Georgia must return the full amount of a security deposit within 30 days after a tenant moves out, as long as all rent (and any other payments due to the landlord) has been paid in full and the property has been cleaned and was not damaged (normal wear and tear is not considered “damage,” even if a landlord decides that some regular maintenance such as repainting is needed).

If your landlord is withholding all or part of your deposit, they must give you specific and appropriate reasons. If you are dissatisfied with the reasons, you may want to talk with an attorney about potential legal claims.

If your landlord sells the property, they must either transfer your deposit to the new owner or refund the security deposit to you. If you do not receive your full security deposit from your former landlord, you should ensure that you receive written notice from the new property owner that they have received it in full. If neither you nor the new owner have received it, write to your former landlord before pursuing legal remedies.

Please note that application fees or deposits to hold an apartment until the lease is signed are not considered security deposits in Georgia and are usually are not refundable. A pet deposit or advance rent deposit is considered part of a security deposit if it is refundable under the lease.

Renter’s insurance & flood damage

Your landlord’s property insurance covers your landlord’s property, but typically will not cover any of your belongings if they are damaged by fire, theft, water, etc. So if you want coverage for your personal property, it’s up to you to obtain renter’s insurance, which can also provide liability coverage for situations such as a guest in your home being injured. Some leases require the tenant to have a renter’s insurance policy, but it can be a good idea to get coverage even if it’s not required.

Note that if the property has been damaged by flooding 3 or more times during the previous 5 years, the landlord is required to notify you in writing before you sign a lease. If notification is not given in such casess, the landlord is liable to the tenant for damage due to flooding during the lease period.

It’s a good idea to know the flood zone for any property you intend to rent. Flood zone maps can be found by performing a record search on the property’s address at the county tax assessor’s website and viewing the property map: Clarke County, Oconee County, Oglethorpe County.

Number of occupants

Keep in mind that your lease and/or local ordinances may restrict the number of persons, especially unrelated persons, living in the home. Do not assume that it’s OK to add another resident to your household or to sublet a room or portion of the house to someone else. Before changing the number of residents in a rented property, be sure to consult your lease, your landlord, and local regulations.


Make sure you understand how, and by whom, utilities are to be paid before signing a lease. Typically, tenants in detached houses are responsible for all utilities including power, water, internet, phone, television, and trash/recycling pick-up, although houses served by a well may include water. Most apartment complexes include trash and recycling pickup in the monthly rent. If your landlord tells you that a utility is included with your rent, be sure that this is spelled out clearly in the lease.

Before signing a lease, make sure you understand the estimated cost of utilities including up-front costs such as deposits. If your landlord uses “master metering” — a single utility meter for water, electricity, natural gas, etc. in the landlord’s name, divided among several rental units — be sure you understand how your portion is calculated. Landlords may not cut off a tenant’s utilities unless the landlord has received a final eviction judgment against the tenant. However, utility companies may cut off service due to non-payment.

While not strictly a utility, if you require pest control, do not expect the landlord to be responsible for that service unless the lease states as such. If the landlord is responsible, make sure the lease states how often pest control services will be performed, what specific services will be provided, and whether the tenant may request additional service if pests are discovered within the home or on the property between treatments. If you are providing pest control, do not place any poisons or traps outside the home or in any common areas without receiving written permission to do so.


Landlords are responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the home, and cannot require tenants to make repairs or pay for repairs except when the damage is caused by the tenants themselves or their guests. Always make repair requests in writing, including the date of the request, and retain a copy for yourself.

If repairs are not made within a reasonable time, it’s best to consult an attorney about your options. While Georgia law allows tenants to pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their next rent payment in certain circumstances, it’s risky to do so without your landlord’s written permission, as your landlord and the court might not agree that your actions were necessary or appropriate. You could end up stuck with the bill, or even be required to pay to have your work undone!

If you believe that problems in need of repair constitute a housing code violation, and your landlord is not adequately responding to repair requests, you may opt to contact your county’s code enforcement agency. Before doing so, it’s a good idea to do a little research to determine whether a code violation actually exists, so that you don’t create unnecessary work and expense for the county or your landlord.

County housing code agencies:

Paying rent

Rents are due when your lease says they are due. There is no “grace period” for late payments unless it is explicitly stated in the lease. Your lease should also desribe any penalties, such as late fees, for late payments. Late fees may not be imposed if not described in the lease.

Allowable methods of payment should be specified in the lease. If they are not, a landlord can require tenants to pay in cash.

It’s best to get dated receipts for all your rent payments. If you pay by drop-box, keep a record of your method of payment including check or money order numbers and dates. Never pay cash rent via drop box — always get receipts for cash rent!

A landlord may initiate eviction proceedings even upon one instance of late payment of rent, unless the rental agreement says otherwise. However, a landlord may not attempt to dispossess a tenant if late rent or partial payment is accepted. A landlord who repeatedly accepts late or partial payments may end up forfeiting the right to evict tenants for late payments, unless they notify tenants that the policy has changed and late/partial payments are no longer accepted from that point forward.

If your landlord refuses to accept a full, on-time rent payment for any reason, always get documentation of the refusal, which could consist of a written statement by your landlord explaining the reasons for the refusal, or an audio/video recording of your encounter. Remember, always remain calm and professional in all encounters, and notify the other party if you are recording anything. Generally, landlords to not have to accept late rent or partial payments unless specified in the lease.

If your landlord claims you owe back rent from previous months, but you have paid on time in the most recent month, you cannot be evicted for the back rent, but your landlord may sue you in court to obtain the balance. If you believe you have paid in full, you should send copies (never originals) to your landlord of any documentation you have as proof, which may include rent receipts, bank statements, canceled checks, money order duplicate slips, or a combination of these.

If you have a written lease, your rent cannot be raised during the term of the lease unless the lease says otherwise. If you do not have a written lease, your landlord cannot raise your rent or ask you to leave without giving you 60 days’ notice.

If your rent check does not clear (“bounces”), Georgia law allows your landlord to demand cash payment within 10 days. You may also be required to pay a return check fee (which cannot exceed $30 or 5% of the check amount, whichever is greater) along with any other fees resulting from the bad check. If you do not pay the fees, your landlord can sue you for the amount of the fees plus damages. (Damages can be as high as double the amount of the check, but no more than $500 plus court costs.)

Writing a check which you know will not clear is a crime in Georgia and could result in criminal prosecution in addition to a civil lawsuit.

When your lease ends

Tenants should give their landlord at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to move out, unless the lease requires differently. It’s best to do this in writing, even if you and the landlord both expect you to move at the end of your lease period.

If you want to renew your lease, your landlord is not obligated to do so. Nor are landlords required to provide reasons or justifications for non-renewal. Do not make plans assuming that your lease will renew until the new agreement has been signed by all parties.

If you want to stay in your location for a while, but not for the full term of a new lease, you can try to negotiate an extension of the lease with your landlord. Some landlords will allow extensions, while others insist that tenants either renew or terminate. If your landlord continues to accept rent after the end of the lease and lets you stay in the unit, this creates a “tenancy-at-will”. Conditions of the old lease still apply, except that the landlord can terminate or change the terms (including rent) with 60 days’ notice, and you may terminate the lease with a 30 day notice.

If you have to move out before your lease ends, your landlord may accept surrender of the unit (in writing) or may legally continue to hold you to your lease as long as the home remains unrented and unoccupied. Landlords are not required to seek new tenants. If there are early termination provisions in your lease, you must follow that procedure and pay any required fees as described. A landlord may not continue to hold you to the terms of your lease if the home is re-rented or if it becomes occupied without a lease.

If the home you are renting is sold to a new owner, the sale does not void your lease. Nor does the sale allow the new owner to alter your lease unless it already contains language permitting the owner to terminate or modify during the term. Nevertheless, if your residence is sold while you’re living there and you are not contacted by the new owners, it’s not a bad idea to send a letter of introduction expressing your intentions to stay.


Your landlord can legally evict you if (a) you have not paid your rent, (b) you have violated your lease, or (c) you have not moved out at the end of your lease. However, a landlord cannot simply lock you out and throw your belongings to the curb. They must initiate a lawsuit known as a dispossessory warrant. If you are sued for eviction, it is important to consult professional legal counsel immediately.

It is illegal in Georgia for a landlord to cut off utilities prior to a judge’s final decision regarding an eviction.


Landlords are barred by law from discriminating against applicants or tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. Some of the more common forms of illegal discrimination include:

It is against the law to threaten, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others to exercise that right. For assistance with determining whether discrimination based on a protected class has taken place, you may wish to contact one of HUD’s Fair Housing Initiative Program offices in Georgia.

Athens-Clarke County has additional anti-discrimination protections which include protections against differential treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status, and veteran/military status. You can find more details on the ACC anti-discrimination page.

For renters with disabilities, please see HUD’s Disability Overview page regarding questions about accessibility, reasonable accommodations, and service animals.

Athens Access to Justice Initiative: Providing services for people who are taking on a civil legal action without an attorney

Athens-Clarke Common Residential Ordinances: Many of these regulations apply to property owners, but some apply to renters as well, such as street/yard parking and the number of persons occupying a home.

Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity: Website of the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

GA Dept. of Community Affairs – Safe & Affordable Housing: Includes links to the GA Rental Assistance Program, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and more

Georgia Landlord & Tenant Handbook: A guide to state rental laws

Georgia Legal Aid: Renters & Homeowners page, including Rental Housing Basics

Georgia Legal Services Program: Offers free legal services to low-income Georgians living outside metro Atlanta

Header image by Artistic Operations

Most recent page update: August 2023