According to the most recent US Census data, more than one-third of households in Atlanta and across the state of Georgia are renters. Probably at least that percentage of the calls that we get at our firm are from landlords or tenants who are involved in some type of dispute over their rental property. The first question to them is almost always the same – what does the lease say? The second is, can a real estate disputes attorney help?

When renting a residence in Georgia having a good, thorough lease is absolutely critical whether you are the landlord (owner) or the tenant (renter). Georgia law provides a few general principles that govern the relationship between landlords and tenants, but the overwhelming majority of the rights and obligations of the landlord and tenant will be determined based on what the parties put into the lease.

In the internet era when you can find a legal form for just about anything through a simple online search, the importance of a good lease is lost on many renters and even many landlords. But when parties are committing to a long term business relationship, it is critical that they contemplate and address as many contingencies as possible in the lease contract so that everyone knows what should be done and what their rights and obligations are when the unexpected happens. Some of the items every good lease should address include:

  • Length (term) of the lease
  • Amount of rent
  • Due date for rent
  • Late fees for overdue rent
  • Security deposit
  • What constitutes default (breach) of the lease
  • Rights of each party in the event of default by the other
  • Move-in inspection
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Lawn care and pest control responsibilities
  • Pets
  • Damage to the property
  • Permissible uses of the property
  • Early termination rights
  • Renewal terms

For example, the Atlanta business attorneys at Spaulding Law have had situations where commercial landlords have come to us wanting to enforce a residential lease requiring the tenant to be responsible for all maintenance and repairs. These landlords were not aware that while such provisions are enforceable in commercial leases (commercial rental space), such provisions are unenforceable in residential leases. A landlord in a residential lease cannot require the tenant to make and pay for repairs not caused by the negligence of the tenant.

By properly addressing these things and many others in a good lease, landlords and tenants can save themselves a lot of time, money, and grief later and avoid finding themselves in a dispute over a problem that has arisen that is not covered or not covered clearly by the wording of the lease. Because every state’s laws are different, form leases that are not specific to any particular state often do not adequately address issues unique to Georgia law. Whether you are interested in renting your property or are looking to rent for someone else, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney to draft or review your proposed lease agreement to make sure it adequately protects your interests and that you understand its terms.

When a problem arises during the rental period, it is much easier for everyone when the lease clearly tells both parties what can or must be done to solve the problem and, if expense is involved, who must pay for it. An experienced Georgia attorney who knows the important provisions of Georgia law to address in a lease and has seen the problems and legal battles that arise from poorly drafted leases can help you anticipate potential problems before they arise when it is much cheaper and far less stressful to address them through changes to the lease.