Georgia law offers tenants little protection against unscrupulous landlords. Some owners want to strip more.
A lease may be their most powerful tool, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.
Tenants have little or no leverage to negotiate abusive terms, especially if they are on a tight budget. Application, reservation and credit check fees totaling $175 or more are commonplace. If potential tenants don’t sign up, they lose their money and have to pay extra fees to apply to another apartment complex.
As rents below $1,200 a month become scarce, tenants are finally agreeing to terms that many would find outrageous. Consider this lease, which a local family signed with a national landlord run by a New York-based private equity firm. Four local housing law experts reviewed it and agreed it was one of the worst they had ever seen.
“What’s horrible is that it’s not downright illegal,” said Atlanta attorney Wingo Smith, who has worked for years with tenants living in federally subsidized housing.
By lobbyists, for lobbyists
This lease has 65 pages and includes 20 addenda, two of which relate to crime. The owner cobbled it together from forms published by the Georgia Apartment Association, an influential industry lobby group, which makes them available on its website for members to purchase.
The state group’s forms use complex legal language that requires tenants to waive the rights that state and federal laws give them, experts told the AJC.
Judges often allow them to retain these rights if they sue. But without the advice of a lawyer, tenants may not know.
“It’s an intimidation tactic,” said Lindsey Siegel, an attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid. “I think it’s designed to make tenants think they have less rights than they have.”
The Georgia Apartment Association said in a statement that the leases are vetted by legal consultants and comply with state law.
State law does not require property owners to disclose crimes that take place on their properties, but it does say they must exercise “ordinary care” to prevent foreseeable criminal acts. For example, they must provide working locks, Rogers said.
But this lease may give tenants the impression that such legal protections do not exist.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people… who thought they were prohibited from taking legal action and never did,” said Andrew Rogers, whose firm, Deitch & Rogers , specializes in lawsuits brought by victims of crime against landlords.
“They are pushing the envelope and becoming increasingly emboldened in their efforts to not be held accountable for the things they know they are not doing right – the things that leave their tenants open to being shot, stabbed and violated. “, added Rogers.
Not their fault
Avoiding responsibility is a recurring theme. Tenants at several Atlanta metro complexes routinely complain to the Journal-Constitution of ruined clothing, shoes and furniture due to malfunctioning air conditioning units, sewage spills or working doors and windows. wrong. Georgian law allows them to sue their owners for damages. But the above provision obliges the tenant to accept that the owners of the apartment are not responsible.
Tenants who complain about the conditions risk becoming homeless. The set of provisions below states that they can be kicked out for writing a negative online review of the apartment or talking to a reporter. They can also lose their homes if they organize to tackle unsafe and unsanitary conditions, an activity protected by a 2019 Georgia law, Smith notes. Tenants often share their concerns through petitions and flyers, and this lease gives landlords wide latitude to label such activities as breaches of the lease:
And in this provision, a tenant must agree that they can be evicted if code enforcement cites management for creating unsafe or unsanitary conditions. They also face homelessness for water intrusion or mold, regardless of who is at fault:
Signing this lease also means you agree to lose your home for crimes you might not have committed. The provision below clarifies that management does not have to wait for a charging decision by prosecutors, let alone a conviction.
Landlords even have the option of evicting a tenant for an arrest that took place years ago:
An additional bed bug addendum poses a health and sanitation threat, Smith said. It obliges a tenant to accept that his family can be evicted if an infestation takes place in his dwelling, whether or not it is the cause:
If a landlord evicts, bedbugs are likely to end up where renters seek emergency shelter, whether it’s their car, a relative’s house, or a homeless shelter.
“From a public health perspective, it’s really dangerous,” Smith notes.
Like Netflix, maybe worse
It can be difficult for anyone without a thorough knowledge of housing law to realize that they are waiving their rights. For example, the provision above states that the lease renews automatically, much like a subscription to Netflix or a magazine. The problem is that under Georgia law, landlords are supposed to give 60 days notice for rent increases. In this lease, once the renewal has been made, this notice is only 15 days.
Other provisions interfere deeply in family life. This allows managers to enter your apartment at any time to take your pet away if they decide it is “in distress”.
This requires tenants to allow their children and other family members to be photographed for apartment marketing purposes, without compensation:
The above section requires tenants to waive the federal consumer protections that the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Telephone Communications Protection Act of 1991 provide. Their landlord can report an inaccurate amount to a collection agent and can call family, friends and employers to tell them about it, Smith said.
“There’s a spectrum between debt collection and someone with a lead pipe hitting your knees or hitting the knees of your loved ones,” Smith said. “It falls further on the last side than on the first.”
Together, these provisions are an attempt by owners to carve their way to bigger profits, Siegel said.
“They do whatever they think they can do,” Siegel said. “And so far they’ve generally gotten away with it.”