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.

When a Landlord Violates Tenant Rights by Blockade, Consider a Premises Liability and Consumer Protection Lawsuit

Worst Athens Landlord Dispute of the Year?

Everyone may not be cut out to be a landlord, especially if weak anger management skills cause them to violate the rights of their tenants. Georgia landlord/tenant law clearly addresses all aspects of a rental arrangement and both sides have a responsibility to understand and comply with each requirement.

Tenants must pay rent in a timely manner, keep the premises in good order, and refrain from disruptive behavior and landlords must allow tenants access, the right to enjoy the use of the property, and maintain safe living conditions.

Landlords who attempt an illegal eviction face fines and penalties. Likewise, a landlord may not falsely imprison a tenant as Bogart residents 90 year old Frank Bundy and his two daughters, both in their 60s, did when they blocked their Athens tenant’s door, the only access into the unit, with an oversized tree stump and a log.

Regardless of the reason for the on-going dispute between the Bundy family and their 45 year old tenant, false imprisonment is a crime. Even worse, according to the Athens-Clarke County police officer as reported by onlineathens.com, doing so endangered lives during an emergency such as fire or gas leak, the officer was quoted as saying, especially since “there is no back door and some of the windows have metal bars across the lower pane.”

The dispute began back in February, when Mr. Bundy tried to unsuccessfully evict the tenant, who won $1200 in a countersuit. In early April, a tree stump was moved onto the property. A little less than a week later, Bundy attempted to board a window of the tenant’s Athens duplex, further restricting access. Six days after that, Mr. Bundy and his daughters used a car and chains to wedge the stump against the door of the unit and further bolstered it by chaining a large log to the stump, adding weight and impeding the possibility of shoving the stump aside. The police officer had to use straps attached to his vehicle to tow the blockade out of the way.

Illegal Eviction? False Imprisonment? Call on an Athens Premises Liability Attorney at Hurt, Stolz & Cromwell LLC for the Experience and Skill You Need for Settlement Recovery and Compensation

Mr. Bundy and his daughter didn’t just violate tenant rights. They created a dangerous environment. There are warrants out for the arrest of all three.

Hopefully, the Bundys will get out of the rental business and move on to more peaceful endeavors.But the tenant should discuss the case with a seasoned Athens premises liability attorney to discuss options for seeking compensatory damages for false imprisonment, violation of tenant rights, harassment, emotional distress, and pain and suffering if injuries were sustained.

Each landlord/tenant dispute is slightly different and most are settled amicably, but if a landlord oversteps the law, tenants should consult with an experienced Atlanta consumer protection lawyer at Hurt, Stolz & Cromwell LLC to explore all facets to your liability claim. Contact us today for a free, confidential, and sympathetic consultation.