Can an apartment manager require online rental payments and make tenants pay the fee for that service?

November 16, 2015 15:00 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

The management company where I live has stopped collecting rent in person (via check or cash) and now only accepts payments online using a third-party company. The cost for this service is passed on to the renters. Is that legal?

Consumer Ed says:  

Your question raises two issues:  (1) Can a landlord require you to change your method of payment, and (2) can that landlord require you to pay for the services of a third-party online company collecting your rent?

Method of Payment

In Georgia, landlord-tenant relationships are generally governed by the terms of your lease agreement, except for some general protections provided by Georgia law.  If you and your landlord have a lease agreement, you need to look at the terms of that lease for your agreed-upon methods of payment.  If your lease explicitly allows payment by check or cash, then to deny you that right is a breach by the landlord. While you’re still under lease, you are protected by its terms, and the landlord cannot change its terms and require you to pay online.  However, if the lease requires that you pay online, and the landlord has allowed you to pay by cash and check only as a courtesy, there is nothing preventing him from later enforcing the lease as written. Similarly, if the lease does not specify a particular method of payment or if the lease allows the landlord to specify a particular method of payment, the landlord is likely free to use any commercially reasonable method of payment.

If you don’t have a lease agreement, you’re what’s known as a tenant-at-will, and only marginally protected by Georgia law.  In Georgia, a tenant at will may be a tenant whose lease expired but the landlord continues to accept rent, or it may be there was no written lease but the landlord accepts rent each month.  In either case, for the landlord to make a change in the payment or other items other than the term of the lease, or to demand higher rent or possession of the property by termination, the landlord must first give sixty days’ advance notice, generally in writing.  This notice must be measured from the time the rent is initially due, such as the first of the month, not merely sixty calendar days.   For the tenant to leave the property under a tenancy at will, the tenant must first give thirty days’ advance notice, generally in writing, also measured from the time the rent is initially due.

For example, if a tenant pays rent on the first of the month and wants to give notice to move, the tenant could not give notice on the fifteenth of November and calculate thirty days.  Rather, the tenant would have to give notice to include a full thirty days following the term beginning on December 1st, the date the rent is due under the current tenancy at will term.  Tenant would be liable for December rent.  The same is true for the landlord. The sixty-day period must coincide with the existing term of the lease, usually the first of the month unless a different date has been mutually agreed upon.

In either case, if you do submit payment to your landlord, and he refuses to accept your payment, keep a record of it.  It may be a defense if the landlord seeks future action against you. As always, proof in writing is best, if possible.

Cost of Service

Assuming that you’re paying your rent on time and the third party receiving the service fee is not a debt collector, your landlord probably isn’t allowed to charge you for the services of a third-party payment merchant, unless there is such a provision in your lease.  If, on the other hand, you were late on rent, and this third-party agency is a debt collector, then this service fee may be acceptable if the charge is within reason and allowed in your lease agreement. 

It’s worth re-stating that in Georgia, the lease controls.  You should always read it thoroughly and understand its terms before you sign it.  This is generally the best protection to prevent issues with rent payments (you should also keep a copy of your lease, should any issues arise). 

If you cannot settle this dispute with your landlord, you should consider hiring an attorney. 

For more information, you should consult the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook available at

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Can I get out of my lease due to noise from fitness center below my apartment?

September 23, 2015 16:36 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

I live on top of the fitness center in an apartment complex.  The machines are extremely loud, and my apartment shakes when they are in use. When I moved in, the fitness center hours were 9am to 10pm. This allowed for some quiet time. Recently, a new manager was hired who changed the gym hours to 6am to midnight. The extreme noise and vibration now last 18 hours a day.  Can an apartment complex do this? My lease states that all residents are to adhere to reasonable quiet time between 10pm-9am, but the gym hours are not mentioned. We no longer enjoy living here. The property manager will not return my call. What can I do? 

Consumer Ed says:  

You’re likely protected by the terms of your lease. The agreement created between the landlord and tenant provides with it a right to possess and enjoy the property.  In Georgia, the lease determines what is and is not allowed, and both parties are bound by its terms.  Because your lease specifies a reasonable quiet time, which applies to all residents, not only must you as a tenant maintain that quiet time, but the property manager has the duty to make sure other residents do as well, especially when the gym is a common area under the property manager’s control. 

You generally have the right to be free from disruption, inconvenience, and damage caused by other tenants under the landlord’s control, especially for conduct occurring in common areas of the property, such as the gym.  You also have the added benefit of the quiet hours provided in your lease.  

You made the right first step in contacting the manager to report the problem; however, if your property manager refuses to address the problem, you may have other options available to you.  First, continue to try to make contact with the property manager, preferably in writing, and keep documentation of your attempts.  If the property manager is merely the manager and not the true owner, you should try contacting the landlord or property owner to resolve the dispute.  If the problem persists, and the landlord refuses to act within a reasonable time, you can ask to be released from your lease, or transferred to another unit, on the grounds that the landlord has broken his terms of the lease.  

Before you decide to take any action, take another look at your lease and see if it allows for any changes or modifications to be made.  Unless the lease allows for the landlord/property manager to make changes to the gym and quiet time hours, the manager must adhere to the existing lease terms and make efforts to ensure a reasonable quiet time between the hours of 10pm and 9am.  Even if the landlord can make changes to this policy, it’s unlikely that he would be able to do so without at least some notice to the tenants.  

If you cannot get in contact with the property manager or landlord, you should consider pursuing action against your landlord in a local small claims court and/or hiring an attorney.  

If you cannot bear your living situation, be aware that your ability to get out of your lease still depends on its written terms.  This means that even if you break your lease and move out, you may still be responsible for paying rent on the remaining lease, and could even be subject to an early termination fee (if that is what your lease states). 

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Landlord charging for normal wear and tear upon move-out

July 22, 2015 20:44 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

We recently moved out of a house we lived in for two years.  While tenants, we got routine lawn maintenance, monthly cleaning service, and always paid our rent on time. When we moved out we had the carpets shampooed, the house professionally cleaned, lawn mowed, patched all paint marks, and left the house in very good condition.  My landlord now wants to charge us $30 for a new battery for the smoke detector, $90 for three door stoppers, $125 to patch paint for a small area and for water marks that existed before we moved in.  The total bill he’s giving us is for around $1,000. When we moved into the house we did not report normal wear and tear since the house was seven years old.  We left the house in great shape, and now he is overcharging us so he can upgrade the house.  How should we handle this situation?

Consumer Ed says:  

Generally, tenants are not responsible for any defects that existed when they moved in.  Under Georgia law, there is a separate standard for landlords who own ten or more housing units or employ a management agent; such landlords are required to conduct a move-in inspection of the premises, and then give the tenant a list of any existing damages or other conditions on the premises.  If your landlord falls into this category, but did not provide you with a move-in inspection sheet, he or she may not ask you to pay for any existing damages.  If you were presented with an inspection sheet at move-in, and you signed the move-in inspection sheet before you identified the watermarks on the ceiling, then your landlord likely can charge you for these damages.   Landlords who own fewer than ten units and/or manage their own units are not required to follow any inspection procedures.  Understand that your landlord must notify you that you owe for the damages to the premises; s/he has the right to sue you for this additional amount if you refuse to pay. 

That being said, your landlord should not charge you for normal wear and tear (slight damages that are the result of the renter, his or her family, and guests using the home for its intended purpose).  Only if the home or its fixtures are damaged in any way beyond what is expected for normal wear and tear should your landlord charge you for this kind of damage.  Further, the age of the item or fixture should be taken into account when you are charged for any damages beyond normal wear and tear (the amount charged per item should reflect the age and/or quality of that item as it was when you moved in).  To determine if what the landlord is charging you is reasonable, check with different home improvement or other such stores to determine the cost of the batteries and door stoppers of similar make and age.  For the paint issue, you may want to call painters and get an estimate of what the cost to repair would be, then compare that to what your landlord is charging you.  If, based on your research, you believe your landlord is overcharging you (or is charging you for wear and tear that you shouldn’t have to pay), you have five business days starting at the end of your lease to specify, in writing, the items you don’t think you should have been charged for, or to contest the amount charged for any particular item.  If you believe you’re being unfairly charged for any of these items, you should consult the Landlord Tenant Handbook on the Department of Community Affairs’ website ( for more information, and speak to an attorney.  

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