Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Once I file an eviction ... shouldn't I just dismiss it if the tenant moves out or offers to pay?

This is a common question ... most landlords are intimidated by the thought of going to court, and often look for ways to avoid it. Many landlords considering hiring me to assist them with a non-paying tenant want to know if we can save time and money by cancelling the whole eviction when the tenant either 1) voluntarily moves, or 2) voluntarily pays the past due rent. My advice? NO!


When filing an eviction because the tenant has failed to pay rent you're seeking a number of things, first you're asking the court to terminate the lease and return possession of the property back to you. Second, you ask the court to grant a judgment for all of the past due rent, as well as any rent accruing during the time the court case is pending. If you dismiss the case after the tenant voluntarily moves you take away the court's ability to grant you a judgment for the past due rent! While a judgment is not a guarantee that you will ever receive the money, not receiving a judgment virtually guarantees that you will never receive the money! The courts in metro-Atlanta, in my experience, will generally grant you all of the past due rent, late fees up to 10% of the monthly rent, and court costs without hesitation. While no one can guarantee you'll ever receive any or all of that money, getting the judgment is a neccessary first step.

Another problem is claims of unlawful, or illegal eviction. Should the tenant move out, taking most (but not all) of his belongings you might be tempted to assume he is gone for good. You're likely to enter the property, remove the few things left behind, change the locks and put up a for rent sign. Unfortunately, should the tenant later return, you would be guilty of an unlawful eviction, liable for the cost of any items you discarded, and potentially liable to the tenant for punitive damages. Unless the tenant has removed ALL of his personal property and returned the keys, you CANNOT assume he doesn't intend to return!


The second issue is what to do if the tenant offers to pay? First, you should know that Georgia law requires that you accept the rent if the tenant offers to pay all of the past due rent AND court costs within 7 days of the sheriff serving him the eviction papers. The landlord is only required, however, to do this once in any 12 month period from any one tenant. If the tenant offers to pay AFTER the answer is due or filed, you are not required to accept it, but you can if you choose to. If you choose to accept that rent I advise that you do so under the terms of a CONSENT JUDGMENT, which puts in writing that you're accepting the rent, and that the tenant agrees to pay all future rent on or before the first of each month and that any violation of this agreement entitles the landlord to seek an immediate writ without need for further court action. This will allow you to skip the lengthy eviction process, and the cost of another filing fee, should the tenant fail to pay the rent on time durint the remaining term of his tenancy.

Each case will be different and you should always consult with a qualified attorney in each case! Feel free to post questions here, or email me at You can also call toll-free at 1-888-500-EVICT.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Do I really need an attorney to file an eviction?

While it may seem expedient to attempt to evict someone without hiring an attorney it could end up costing you more in the long run... Just imagine you accidentally do something wrong and the renter gets to stay an extra month... still not paying rent because you have to refile to correct a mistake. Furthermore, if your lease specifies that you're entitled to attorney's fees you may recoup every penny you spend on an attorney from the tenant. Our law office has developed relationships and procedures with Georgia eviction companies that may allow us to get your tenant out days, or even weeks, faster than you would if you attempted to handle the eviction on your own. (We can often get an eviction scheduled within 24-48 hours of receiving a Writ from the court. If you were to call the sheriff or marshall yourself it could take weeks, just call them and ask!) I realize that it may seem expensive to hire an attorney, but the sooner you can get a non-paying tenant out, and get a paying tenant in, the sooner you begin making money again! Remember, renters rights are protected by the courts, but landlords can expedite an eviction by carefully following the law and hiring an attorney that has extensive experience in Georgia dispossessory law.

Feel free to call our office for a free consultation. We accept mastercard/visa/american express and can often get the process started the same day you call.

Can't I just change the locks?

A common question from Landlords...
Can't I just change the locks if the renter has not paid?

ANSWER: No, absolutely not! Unfortunately, the law does not allow you to take such actions, and you could be liable to the tenant for damages, or unable to collect the past due rent if you illegally evict the tenant. In Johnson v. Howard, 92 Ga.App. 96 (1955), the Georgia Court of Appeals, upholding a 1933 case, decided that compensatory AND PUNITIVE damages may be awarded to a tenant who is wrongfully evicted by a landlord.While it is time consuming to go through the legal process, the Georgia legislature has made the process quicker than most court actions by requiring shorter deadlines in eviction cases. Once a tenant is served with an action for eviction, they have only 7 days to respond instead of 30 days like most court actions.

Further, the legislature states that the Courts are to expedite the hearing after the tenant files an answer, and most Courts set the hearing within approximately 7 days after the tenant files an answer. If the tenant has not paid the rent the court will ultimately issue a "Writ" of possession. This is an order to the Sheriff or Marshall in the County to go to the premises and physically remove the tenant and all of their belongings. Once you obtain the writ, the Sheriff will go to the residence and supervise, but will not actually remove any property. In order to have the property moved you will need to provide 2 strong men per bedroom or to hire an eviction company. The eviction company will provide a crew of at least 2 strong men per room of the premises and will, under the Sheriff's supervision, remove all of the tenant's property from the premises. The actual time of the eviction usually is less than one hour. It is only after the Sheriff has "dispossessed" the tenant that you are legally permitted to change the locks, which most eviction companies will do, while the Sheriff is still at the property. In Georgia, for most cases you can expect to have the tenant out of the premises within approximately 30 days. While this may seem like a long time, it can take months in other states.As long as you follow the proper procedure, and ensure the Sheriff is present when any eviction takes place, you can avoid being liable to the tenant for any damage to their property.

Eviction Do’s and Don’ts

DO file an eviction with the courts,
DON’T do anything outside of the court process!
(And don’t stop the eviction proceeding just because the tenant is gone.)


I often hear from landlords who want to “immediately” remove a tenant from their property for non-payment of rent. Often the landlord has been exceedingly patient, having received no rent for weeks, even months. Sometimes the landlord was patient because the tenant lost a job, or a family member passed away. Other times the landlord was patient because the tenant had medical bills that were unforeseen. In every case, the landlord feels hurt, angry, and taken advantage of. The only reward the landlord receives for their kindness is having to pay the mortgage on the rental property without receiving any rent!

While I can sympathize with the anger and frustration in this situation (I own rental property too) I must warn you, if you don’t follow the law regarding evictions, not only will you not collect your past due rent, but you might also be writing a check to the tenant and/or a good lawyer to get you out of trouble! The following are only a few examples of unlawful evictions according to the Courts in Georgia. 1) Removing the tenant’s personal property and placing it upon the street, unless this is done under the supervision of the sheriff, acting under a court ordered writ. 2) Changing the locks to prevent the tenant from having access to the premises.

While the two examples above may be very obvious, there are other things a landlord can do which, if done, would violate the law. One landlord asked me if it was alright to enter upon the premises to remove all the appliances in the house. Another landlord asked me if it was okay to remove the front door from the house. Yet another landlord asked me if it was okay to have the utilities disconnected because the tenant had failed to pay for the utilities that were in the landlord’s name. My advice is NO, NO, and NO! If you try any of these actions you could very well end up, not only having to keep the tenant instead of evicting them, but also paying punitive damages for your intentional interference with the tenants right of possession outside of the court process. (See especially Albert Properties, Inc. v. Watkins, 143 Ga.App. 184 (1977).
Landlords who have violated the rules have attempted to “explain away” their actions by stating that the tenant “violated the rules first” by not paying rent, or some other breach of the lease. While it may make you feel good, blaming the tenant for causing your unlawful actions will not work.

“It is fundamental that the landlord cannot evict as and how it pleases and in the process damage or lose the tenant's personal property and then obviate its negligence by proving the tenant had violated the lease terms (the grounds for eviction), for then there would be no such thing as a cause of action for unlawful eviction.” Kerlin v. Lane Co., 165 Ga.App. 622 (1983).

The courts have even held that a landlord that authorizes or acts in a way which intimidates the tenants into “voluntarily” leaving, even though the landlord did nothing to physically interfere with the tenant’s possession, are subject to paying damages to the tenant. (See Sinclair Refining Co. v. Stovall, 41 Ga.App. 214 (1930).)


Many landlords ask me if it is okay to stop the proceeding once the tenant has “abandoned” the property. There are several reasons why I advise landlords to move forward. First, unless you move forward you will not be able to obtain a money judgment against the tenant. Second, and perhaps more importantly (especially if you believe it will be impossible to collect a money judgment against the tenant), there is a possibility that the tenant could come back and claim you unlawfully evicted them!

Suppose you file the paperwork with the Court. The sheriff goes out to the property and serves the tenants with the proper paperwork. The tenants do not respond to the court paperwork but instead, apparently move out of the property. Assuming that they did not return the keys, and, they do not remove all of their personal property from the premises, you CANNOT re-enter the premises, even if they only leave behind a few old clothes and an (apparently) broken television. If you were to remove these items from the premises without a writ (court order), and without properly executing that writ under the supervision of the sheriff’s department… you’ve just accomplished an unlawful eviction! Of course I understand that, 9 times out of 10, the tenant may not ever come back, but if they do you’ll be very sorry.

Another reason to move forward, assuming the tenant was either served personally, or that the tenant responded to the papers by filing a response with the court, is so that you can obtain a money judgment. The courts will very likely award you all of the back due rent you claim, plus court costs in every case. Courts are a little more selective about awarding late fees and/or attorney’s fees. Most courts will allow late fees if they are simple to understand (i.e. $100 after the 5th of the month), AND they are reasonable (i.e. less than or equal to 10% of the monthly rent). Courts will generally also award attorney’s fees if the lease is properly written, and you hired an attorney. Feel free to call my office if you have any questions. We’ll be happy to discuss your specific situation without obligation, free of charge.

Trey Phillips is an attorney in Lawrenceville, Georgia whose practice of law includes extensive experience in Landlord and Tenant issues. Trey created the website, to provide Landlords with information regarding Landlord and Tenant law in Georgia. Trey represents Landlords all over the country that own land in Georgia, and may be reached by email at or by calling his office tollfree at 1-888-500-EVICT (3842).