Can landlord force tenant to allow prospective buyers to come view the apartment?

May 4, 2016 17:27 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

I have been renting a home for two years. When the lease was up in October 2015, the Property Manager was delayed in providing a new lease and did not do so until March 2016. He also informed me that the owner would be selling the house to an investor, but that it would not affect my renting the home or renewing the lease for one year because they prefer people living in the home. Does that mean that as long as I am living here I must allow prospective clients to come view the home?  I did not see that in my lease.  I prefer not to have my belongings and personal space viewed by strangers – whether I am home or not. The Property Manager threatened to change the locks and lock me out if I don't cooperate.  I was not notified that I would need to have "open house" while living in the property. The lease will not be up until March 2017 and that means I’d have to have people in and out all year unless they get a buyer.  Do I have any rights in this matter?           

Consumer Ed says:  

For the answer to this question, we consulted the 2012 edition of the Landlord-Tenant Handbook published by the Department of Community Affairs.

While the owner of your property has the right to sell the property whenever he chooses, he still has to abide by the lease that you and he signed. In Georgia, landlord-tenant relationships are generally governed by the terms of the lease agreement, except for some general protections provided by Georgia law. As part of the agreement to lease property from your landlord, you have the right to the exclusive use of the leased property. So, unless your lease states otherwise, your landlord can only enter the property if doing so is necessary to remedy a dangerous condition, prevent damage to the unit, or respond to an emergency on the premises. In such emergency circumstances, a landlord is not legally required to notify a tenant prior to entering the unit.

You should carefully review your lease to see if there is any language giving the landlord a particular right to enter the property. Commonly, a lease will contain language regarding the right to enter property after giving tenants reasonable notice in order to make needed repairs and to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers. If your lease does not give the landlord the right to enter the property, you could legally refuse the landlord entry except in case of an emergency. However, it is best for you and your landlord to discuss the matter and reach a mutually acceptable solution. A reasonable solution might be for the landlord to provide advance notice, such as twenty-four (24) hours before entering the property.  

Importantly, a landlord cannot prevent a tenant from entering or leaving the property without a court order.  “Self-help” evictions, including changing the locks, are illegal in Georgia. A landlord can, however, file a dispossessory action to remove a tenant from the property if the tenant violates a term of the lease, fails to pay rent, or fails to surrender the premises after the lease has ended.  So, if there is a provision in your lease regarding the landlord’s right to enter the property, and you are in breach of that provision by not cooperating, your landlord may file a dispossessory action to remove you from the property.

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. 

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 www.dca.ga.gov


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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 www.dca.state.ga.us


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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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