Q: I’ve been looking for a new apartment. The leases that I have read are over 5 pages long and are full of a lot of legal terms that I don’t understand. What are the most important things I should look out for?

Reposted from the “Ask Consumer Ed” article of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection:

A: Your frustration is understandable. Leases can be overwhelming, even to those accustomed to reading them. Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs has a Landlord-Tenant Handbook available on its website (www.dca.ga.gov) that can give you some guidance, but in particular, here are some important things you should look for before you sign:

  1. Rent and length of the lease – While the landlord may have told you the basic information about the lease, it is important to get the key terms such as monthly rent and length of the lease in writing. This protects you from later changes in price or terms.
  2. Utilities – Leases can differ dramatically in this area. Determine if you are required to place the utilities in your name, pay the landlord for utilities, or if they are included in the rent. This can have drastic impacts on the cost of the apartment, so you need to know upfront what you are obligated to pay.
  3. Security deposit – Most apartments require a security deposit when signing the lease. Find out how much this is and what will be deducted when you move out. Most landlords conduct an inspection before you move in and after you move out to check for damages and deduct the repair costs from the deposit.
  4. Termination and renewal procedures – The lease should state what happens at the end of the lease term. This includes the deadlines and procedures for notifying the landlord that you are either moving out or extending your lease. Be aware of any automatic rent increases that occur if you decide to renew the lease.
  5. Subletting and Subleasing – It is important to know whether you have the ability to leave the

apartment before the lease is up. Leases are often commitments for a year or more and landlords have different rules regarding your ability to lease to another person should your circumstances change.

6. Pets – Some landlords do not allow pets, while others may restrict the number, size or type of pets permitted. Many will charge a pet deposit, which may or may not be refundable. Make sure you are clear about these terms and have budgeted for any additional deposit due.

7. Renter’s Insurance – Remember that your landlord’s insurance does not cover your belongings, only the building itself. If your furniture or belongings are damaged due to fire, theft, or a natural disaster, you’ll be out of luck if you don’t have renter’s insurance. The good news is that renter’s insurance is very affordable, and you can generally purchase it from the same company that insures your vehicle.

Even though a lease can be long and complicated, you should always read it thoroughly before signing it. Be wary of a landlord who seems in a rush for you to sign before you’ve read through the entire document. If you cannot understand the terms of the lease, have someone who is familiar with lease agreements, or an attorney, review it with you to make sure that you fully understand what you are agreeing to before you sign the lease. Do not leave any blanks to be filled in later. Either get them filled in or cross through them, initial each cross-out and have the landlord do so also. Finally, insist upon getting your own copy of the lease, and save it so that you can review your rights and responsibilities should a dispute ever arise.

Unfair or Deceptive Business Practices Bring Georgia Consumer Protection Litigation

The State of Georgia is a strong proponent of consumer protection and has enacted the Fair Business Practices Act, or FBPA, to protect the public from deceptive and unfair business practices through sales, leases or rental of goods or services. The FBPA works to protect the public interest with consumer transactions that are involved with personal, family or household purposes.

Official Code of Georgia Fair Business Practices Act

The Official Code of Georgia provides a strong legal foundation listing examples to the variety of ways the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act provides consumer protection. Some of the examples of unfair or deceptive acts or practices in consumer transactions that are deemed unlawful under Georgia law include:

  • Passing off the goods or services provided as those of another; this could include fraudulently selling artwork by a rising artist, or performing remodeling work using the name of a respected local company
  • Purposefully causing confusion or misunderstanding related to the affiliation, connection or association with another person or business; in other words having you believe that they are certified or that they share a business relationship with a person who may be held in high regard.
  • Causing a consumer to be confused and to purposefully phrase information in such a way to make an Atlanta consumer misunderstand just where a specific product or service came from, what it was made of, or who it was made by. The Georgia Fair Business Practices Act takes a strong stand against this with specific consumer protection laws.
  • Another example that the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act deems to be unlawful revolves around published phone numbers or advertisements for Georgia goods or services. In Athens, a non-local business must clearly state in their telephone listing, advertisement, or even in a non-classified directory that goes out to a local community or service area that while they may have a local phone number the business is actually located in a non-local location.

If you feel you have been the victim of an unlawful business transaction or have purchased service goods or practices that violate Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, calling for a free confidential consultation with an Athens consumer protection lawyer is the first step toward compensation for the “wrong-doing.”

Georgia’s Office of Consumer Protection

Georgia Governors’ Office of Consumer Protection, or OCP, may become involved in cases where the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act is violated. The OCP keeps track of all claims and cases that directly relate to unlawful consumer transactions when there is evidence that there is substantial public interest involved. Retaining the services of an Atlanta consumer protection attorney, well experienced in the Fair Business Practices Act, as well as your local counties’ rules and regulations is essential in successfully representing your case within the court system.

Examples of Unlawful Business Practices

Other activities that are unlawful and prohibited by the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act include:

  • Selling goods as new when they are used items
  • Provide false or misleading information about another business or product in order to persuade the consumer to purchase their product or service
  • Advertising goods or services with either the intent not to sell them as advertised, such as in a “bait and switch” situation, or advertising knowingly not having enough of a product or service available unless the ad states that “quantities are limited.”
  • Purposely manipulating advertising or statements about sale prices, when the prices have not changed in the past month or more.
  • And in addition, selling goods or services that are supposed to be of a particular quality or grade by making false claims; for example selling jewelry that is made with 14K gold as having been made with 18K gold.

The Georgia Fair Business Practice’s Act also has specific provisions written into the law that specifically cover:

  • Health clubs, fitness centers, work-out facilities
  • Promotional contests and give-a-way promotions
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Fraud that is committed over the internet, or network
  • Credit reporting companies and agencies
  • Price gouging during a declared state of emergency
  • Going out of business sales or events
  • Odometer tampering when selling or trading a vehicle
  • Vacation prize offerings in the mail, on-line, on the phone

Atlanta Consumer Protection Attorney

In addition to all the examples listed above, there are scores of other examples and situations that can be included under the Georgia Fair Business Practice’s Act. These unlawful breaches of public trust can be legally claimed under the complex and varied Georgia code and law.

Calling your Georgia consumer protection attorneys at Hurt, Stolz & Cromwell for a free consultation is the right move toward protecting your rights, assets, and financial security.