May 16

Litigating Landlord-Tenant Disputes, Part I

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In recent months I’ve been called on to represent two tenants who ran into difficulties with their landlords – both of which present good lessons on the potential pitfalls for tenants under Georgia law.

The first client was a UGA student who co-signed a contract for a large downtown Athens rental space along with five other friends. They ran into problems with the space right away; the landlord had not completed several significant construction items, including finishing out one of the unit’s bedrooms. After several months of renting, the tenants discovered that the landlord had never received a certificate of occupancy for the rental as presently configured. Upon making this discovery, several tenants decided not to make any further rent payments, reasoning that the property could not legally be rented and thus they could not be required to pay rent. Without all tenants making rent payments, past due rent and late fees swiftly mounted to thousands of dollars. My client – who had been making his portion of the rent payments – came to me concerned about his legal options.

My client’s rental contract held all tenants responsible for the entire rent payment (which, for six tenants, was quite significant) and any other accumulated fees and expenses. This feature – called joint and several liability – is standard among rental contracts and is drafted to give the landlord maximum opportunity to recover amounts allegedly due. I drafted a notice on behalf of my client to the landlord, notifying them that – in light of the missing certificate of occupancy – the rental contract was unenforceable and that my client was terminating his lease. Meanwhile, the landlord caught wind of the fact that the tenants were refusing to pay due to the certificate of occupancy issue and had been moving quickly to remedy the issue. Thankfully, my client was able to give notice and vacate the property a few days before the landlord received the certificate of occupancy.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what happened with my second landlord-tenant dispute…

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