Dispossessory Actions In Georgia

You decided to buy some residential property and to rent it out, so you would build some equity, and also to have some passive income each month. But, finding good tenants and keeping them in the property has been challenging. You find that your current tenants either consistently violate the terms of the lease in some way, or that they won't pay rent timely, or worst of all they're holding over after the term of the lease has ended. It's come to the point where you want to get your current tenants out of the property and find new tenants.

You do have some legal recourse here. You can file what is called a dispossessory action under Georgia law to regain possession of the property, and also to sue for the back rent due under the terms of the lease, and to raise any other claims that are part of the dispute, such as costs of repair, etc.

In order to begin the dispossessory process you have to make a written demand for possession of the premises. If the tenant fails or refuses to turn over the premises when due, then you may proceed to file a dispossessory action against the tenant. The court will then issue a summons and have the sheriff serve the summons and dispossessory complaint on the tenant at his residence.

The sheriff can serve the papers either by leaving them with the tenant personally, or with another appropriate person at the residence, or if that is not possible by tacking them to the door of the residence and mailing them to the last known address of the tenant by first class mail. The method by which the papers are served can affect the outcome of the case. Where the tenant was served by tacking and mailing and he defaults and fails to answer, the court may only award a judgment for the premises, and not for any back rent due.

If you sue only on the basis of non-payment of the rent, then the tenant has a complete defense to the lawsuit. The tenant may tender the entire amount of rent due plus the court cost for filing the dispossessory action within seven days of the date of service. This may only be used one time in any twelve month period by the tenant.

If the tenant doesn't answer the complaint within seven days of the date of service, then the landlord is entitled to a writ of possession of the property immediately, and judgment for all rents due. If the tenant does answer the complaint within seven days, then the court will schedule the matter for an expeditious hearing. The tenant is entitled to remain in the property, as long as the rent is paid to the court at the time of the tenant's answer.

If the case cannot be finally determined within two weeks of the service of the summons on the tenant, then the tenant is required to pay the rent and utility payments due under the lease to the court as they come due. If the tenant fails to pay rent into the registry of the court, then the court must issue a writ of possession to the landlord forthwith and place him in possession of the premises. If there is disagreement between the parties as to the amount of rent due, then the law provides procedures for the court to make that determination. The clerk of court is to pay to the landlord the rental and utility payments as they are paid into the registry of the court, unless there is some dispute about the landlord's entitlement to the funds, in which case they are held by the clerk pending the final resolution of the case.

Any party may appeal the trial court's judgment within seven days. Once a notice of appeal has been filed, the court may choose to supplement the record on appeal with findings of fact and conclusions of law within 15 days. Those conclusions of law and findings of fact are considered as part of the court's order on appeal. A tenant who lost at trial and appeals will be required to pay the rent ordered paid by the court into the court registry as well as all future rent as it comes due to remain in the premises.

Among other things Georgia law prohibits lease agreements that attempt to waive or circumvent these provisions of dispossessory procedure.