A lease agreement is a contractual agreement that spans a specific period of time. During this time, often a year, both parties have a responsibility to abide by the terms of the agreement.
But what are you to do if your Georgia tenant breaks their lease early?
The action you should take depends on the tenant's reasons for breaking the lease.
If the tenant has a legally justified reason, you cannot penalize them for breaking the lease.
However, without a legally justified reason, you may be able to hold them liable for any financial damage you incur as a result of their actions.
In this article, you’ll learn when a Georgia tenant can break their lease, when they can’t, and whether or not you’re obligated by the Georgia state laws to mitigate damages.
Legal Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Georgia
Your tenant can use any of the following reasons to break their lease without penalty in the state of Georgia:
1. The lease permits it.
Does your lease have an early termination clause? If it does, then it actually gives your tenant a legal way to break their lease without penalty.
However, there are usually conditions that a tenant must meet prior to moving out. These include paying a penalty fee and/or providing advance notice.
2. Your tenant is beginning active military duty.
If your tenant needs to relocate for active military duty, they have a right to break their lease penalty-free.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is intended to ease both the legal and financial burdens on military personnel during active service.
The protection by the act begins at the time the member enters active duty and ends between thirty and ninety days after discharge.
What’s more, only Servicemembers qualify for the protection. This includes members of the Armed Forces, National Guard, and the Air National Guard.
Before the tenant can break their lease, the act requires that the tenant do the following:
- Prove that the lease was signed prior to them entering active duty.
- Prove that they intend to remain on active duty for more than 90 days.
- Provide you with a written notice alongside deployment letters from the commanding officer.
3. The unit fails to meet safety, health or structural codes.
Georgia, just like the rest of the 49 states, has specific landlord-tenant laws that you must abide by. Specifically, Georgia laws require that you provide the following when renting out your property:
- Working smoke detectors.
- Working sanitation facilities.
- Functioning plumbing and electrical facilities.
In addition, you should make sure that your unit has:
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Storage areas, including basements and garages
- Safe, clean, and usable fire exits
- Safe floors, stairs, and railings
After your tenant requests repairs, you must do so within a reasonable period of time. If you don’t, your tenant may have several options to pursue.
This can include legal recourse, reporting you to public officials, or repairing the issue themselves and then deducting the appropriate amounts from future rent payments.
4. They accuse you of harassment.
Landlord harassment can also grant a tenant legal justification to terminate their lease. Landlord harassment can take many forms, including:
- Making verbal threats to your tenant.
- Refusing to accept or acknowledge payment of rent.
- Removing your tenant’s personal belongings from their rented premises.
- Locking your tenant out of their rented premises.
- Cutting off amenities that are meant to be used by your tenant.
- Refusing to respond to your tenant’s maintenance requests.
- Creating disruptions meant to deny your tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment.
- Making exaggerated claims in order to evict your tenant.
Basically, such actions are meant to intimidate a tenant into leaving on their own. It’s unlawful.
The only way you can make a tenant leave is through the judicial eviction process. If you use any other method, not only will the eviction fail, but you may also find yourself in legal trouble.
5. They claim you violated their privacy.
As a landlord in Georgia, you have a legal responsibility to respect your tenant’s privacy. Among other things, that means not entering your tenant’s rental unit unannounced.
That said, Georgia doesn’t state implicitly how much notice a landlord must provide their tenants prior to entering their rented unit.
But as a landlord, you can include a clause in your lease agreement that outlines the terms for notice of entry.
6. Your tenant is a victim of domestic violence.
In 2018, the state of Georgia passed a bill providing domestic violence victims with certain special rental provisions.
For a tenant to break their lease using House Bill 34, they must meet the following qualifications:
One, they must have signed the lease agreement after the bill was signed.
Two, the tenant must have a Temporary Protective Order (TPO) or bond conditions stating that the abuser isn’t allowed to contact the victim.
And three, the tenant must provide you written notice of termination, which they must accompany with a certified copy of the relevant criminal or civil family violence order.
Once the tenant has delivered the notice, the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent is due.
Unjustified Reasons for Breaking a Lease in Georgia
The following reasons don’t offer enough legal justification to release a tenant from their lease obligations.
Therefore, they don’t offer your tenant legal protection against any penalties that may result from failure to honor the lease:
- Moving into a new home.
- Relocating due to a new school or job.
- Downgrading or upgrading.
- Moving in with a partner.
Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in Georgia
Most states require landlords to make reasonable efforts to re-rent their vacant units.
However, this isn’t the case in Georgia. This means that you don't have a legal obligation to try and re-rent the property quickly once a tenant breaks the lease.
If you need help managing your rental property in Marietta, contact Vineyard Property Management today.
We're a top-rated property management company in Marietta and can help protect you from broken leases, troublesome tenants, and legal problems.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney. For expert legal help, contact an attorney.