Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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.

No comments: