May 31

Litigating Landlord-Tenant Disputes, Part II

Recently, I was retained by a young couple who rent a home in the Normaltown area of Athens. They told me that in the previous month, the property had been sold to a new owner who was looking to renovate and resell the property. The owner didn’t let my clients know where to send their first rent check until just before the first-of-the-month due date; once the rent check arrived a few days after the beginning of the month, the landlord immediately sent the tenants a demand for the premises noting that the rent check did not cover the rent plus late fees owed, and as such was a partial payment that the landlord was rejecting. A few days later, the landlord filed a dispossessory proceeding.

Once my clients found out the landlord was trying to serve them with a copy of the dispossessory action, they decided that they needed legal representation. After consultation, my clients tendered a payment of rent plus the cost of the dispossessory warrant – under Georgia law, the landlord is obligated to accept such a tender from a tenant once every twelve months, and that payment acts as a complete defense to the dispossessory. (For more information, see OCGA 44-7-52(a).) I also filed an Answer on behalf of my client, contesting the elements of the dispossessory and asserting available defenses.

Following conversations with the landlord, I was able to negotiate an amicable resolution of the matter for my clients, including voluntary dismissal of the dispossessory action and acceptance of re-issued rent checks from my clients without late fees or penalties.

May 16

Litigating Landlord-Tenant Disputes, Part I

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…

January 4

Taking Stock

Two days before Christmas, I got a surprise drop-in client – a local business needed to transfer ownership of shares in their corporation by the end of the year in order to resolve a licensing issue with Athens-Clarke County. Due to the numerous people involved and the tight holiday timeline, it was a bit of a challenge, but I was able to help my client execute a Stock Purchase Agreement and successfully amend their license application by the deadline.

As the calendar turns over to the first Monday of 2016, I would like to take a minute to look back on 2015 – my first year of business – and say thank you to everyone who helped me get The Hinson Firm off the ground in my new hometown of Athens. It’s certainly been a novel and interesting year, full of triumphs (large and small) mixed in with plenty of challenges and learning experiences too. I’ll be hard at work taking the lessons learned and building off 2015 in order to make a bigger and better 2016! I look forward to helping many more clients in the coming year, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service to you and yours.
All the Best,
Nick

August 13

Watch Out For Speed Traps!

You’re rolling down a lonely stretch of rural interstate and get pulled over by a police car. Even though you thought you were going a reasonable speed, the highway patrolman tells you his radar gun says you were going over 100 miles per hour.

What to do? You might want to hire a lawyer to help straighten things out.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) assesses points against your license for moving violations. Speeding 15 – 18 MPH over the limit will get you docked 2 points, 19 – 23 over is 3 points, 24 – 33 over is 4 points, and 34+ is 6 points. If you accrue 15 points on your license over a 24 month period, your license will be suspended. What’s more, drivers convicted of speeding at 75 mph or more on a two-lane road or at 85 mph and above on any road or highway in the State of Georgia will also be hit with a $200 “Super Speeder” fee over and above the speeding fines levied by the county where the violation occurred. Beyond any fines that the driver may face, any speeding conviction of 15+ MPH over the speed limit will be reported and will likely result in increased insurance premiums for years – according to Insurance.com, going 30 over the limit leads to 15% higher rates, on average.

If you’re facing the prospect of hefty fines and premium increases, you should consult a lawyer about whether you have any options for damage control – in many circumstances, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate license points, speeding fines and insurance issues.

As for my client who got pinged going (allegedly) 101 miles an hour in I-20? He took a defensive driving class prior to his court date, and I helped him negotiate his speeding ticket down to 14 MPH over the limit, neatly eliminating the Super Speeder violation, reducing license points and preventing his insurer from finding out about the entire incident.