Many landlords in Georgia typically ask for a security deposit. This security deposit serves to shield you from the financial damage that can arise from certain negligent tenant actions.
Examples of such actions include:
- Failure to pay rent
- Excessive property damage
- Abandoning the unit
- Unpaid pet fees
- Leaving the property unclean at move-out
- Unpaid utilities and repair, or cleaning services contracted by the tenant
That being said, there are landlord-tenant laws you must abide by when charging security deposits. Failure to follow them can mean forfeiting the right to any part of the security deposit, as well as being liable to pay damages.
The following are Georgia's security deposit laws.
Maximum Security Deposit
There is no limit to how much landlords can charge as a security deposit in the state of Georgia.
It may, however, be in your best interests to charge a reasonable security deposit amount. This will keep your property desirable to prospective tenants and therefore lower your vacancy rates.
Charging the equivalent of one- or two months’ rent as a security deposit should suffice for most rental units under the Georgia security deposit laws.
Additional Security Deposits
Georgia law also allows landlords to charge an additional pet deposit. Like any other security deposit, a pet deposit helps ensure that the tenant won’t allow their pet to damage the rental premises.
The security deposit may or may not be refundable at the end of the lease term.
However, people with disabilities who use service animals are an exception to the type of security deposits known as pet deposits. That’s because disability is a protected characteristic under the Fair Housing Act.
This act requires landlords to provide an equal opportunity to tenants who use service animals or emotional support animals. You can't charge them a pet deposit as a service animal is not a pet.
Security Deposit Storage Rules
Georgia requires landlords to store their tenants’ security deposits in a certain manner. Specifically, you have two options in this regard.
The first option is to store your tenant’s deposit in an escrow account. The escrow account must be in a bank or lending institution that’s regulated by either state or federal law.
The second option you have is to post a surety bond. You can post a surety bond for the entire amount of the Georgia security deposit. As a landlord, you’ll serve as the bond’s principal.
Failure to store your tenant’s deposit in the right manner may have certain consequences, including forfeiting your right to withhold any portion of the deposit.
Security Deposit Receipt
Tenants in Georgia have a right to receive written notice on two occasions. First, you must notify your tenant in writing about the location of their security deposit, i.e. how it's being stored.
On the second occasion, you must provide your tenant with a list of all existing damages and defects to the unit before they move in. Your tenant will then have a right to inspect the unit to validate the claims.
If they agree, both you and your tenant must sign the document. This will serve as proof under security deposit law of the property’s condition when the tenant first moves into the unit.
If your tenant doesn’t agree with those claims, they must indicate which specific items they disagree with. Then, they must sign a statement of dissent.
If you fail to provide your tenant with a written notice, you may forfeit your right to keep any portion of their deposit.
Reasons for Keeping a Tenant’s Security Deposit
As already mentioned, Georgia landlords have a right to keep all or a portion of their tenant’s security deposit.
However, the reason for doing so must be legitimate. The following are such reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent or unpaid rent
- Damage exceeding normal wear and tear
- Unpaid pet fees
- Unpaid cleaning bills by the tenant with third parties
- Nonpayment of utility bills
- Fees for late payment of rent
- Any additional costs associated with the tenant abandoning the property
To clarify, landlords in Georgia are not required to make deductions to a tenant’s deposit to cover the damage under Georgia law. For you to do so, two conditions must be met.
For one, the damage must exceed normal wear and tear. And secondly, the damage must not have been included in the list of existing damages prior to the tenant moving in.
In Georgia, landlords have exactly 3 days after their tenant moves out to inspect the unit for damage. If there are any damages exceeding normal wear and tear, you must make an itemized list.
In the list, you must also make it clear that the tenant must agree to the damages or dissent to the claims. If a tenant agrees, you can continue.
Your tenant will also have a right to inspect the property with the list you gave them. They must do this within five days of moving out. If they agree to the list, they must sign it in agreement. And if they refuse, then they must write out the items they disagree with and sign a dissenting statement.
Returning a Tenant’s Security Deposit
Georgia law requires landlords to return their tenant’s deposit one month after they move out. If you won’t be returning the full security deposit, you’re required to provide your tenant with an itemized list of damages.
You must send the itemized list of damages, as well as the remaining portion of the deposit to the tenant’s last known address via first-class mail.
If you aren’t able to locate the tenant within ninety days of sending the notice, the deposit will become yours.
Illegally withholding your tenant’s deposit may have some repercussions. Among other things, you may have to pay the tenant up to 3 times the amount wrongfully withheld.
Sale of Rental Property
If you sell your property or it otherwise changes hands, you must transfer all deposits to the incoming owner.
Alternatively, you must return the deposit (minus any allowable deductions) back to your tenants.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for expert legal advice. Also, laws may change and this post may not be updated at the time you read it.
If you need help with any aspect of property management, please do get in touch with us.
Vineyard Property Management is an award-winning property management company in Marietta, Georgia with over 40 years of professional experience. We can help you by handling the day-to-day operations of your rental property. Get in touch today!