Next up in my local places series, I’m exploring Georgia laws around late payment of rent. I have spoken to a number of landlords and property management professionals about the most common questions they have. Probably the second most asked question is: what do I do if I have a tenant that needs to pay late? This is not a problem that is isolated to Georgia, so if you’re a landlord in another state, always check your state laws. The legal process varies from state to state.
In Georgia, however, if you do have a late paying tenant, there are a few things you should know.
Before we get into that, consider the way that you run your business. If cash flow isn’t a problem for you and you can sometimes allow for late pay: for instance, you have a tenant who is paid on a certain date each month, it may not be a problem to just consider tailoring their lease to that. If it’s just once in a while this happens, it may be wise to remind the tenant of the late fee clause in your lease. If you don’t have such a clause, when it comes time to renew your leases, put one in. This allows for you to be somewhat flexible, while still imposing a penalty that dissuades chronic late payment of rent.
Those situations happen, and in my research, I’ve learned that’s not usually the issue, when a tenant is upfront about it and makes good. The issue is more along the lines of the “check is in the mail” attitude that some deal with but shouldn’t have to. In Georgia, the law requires issuance of a Tack and Mail notice to first give renters a few more days to pay before moving forward.
If that goes by and still no response, the landlord can then file a dispossessory notice. You’ll do this in your local county court and it’ll probably run in the neighborhood of $70-$90, depending on where you file. After that, the renter is served with a summons and this entire process from the tack and notice to the Sheriff’s office delivery of the summons will take a month or so. Once they get the notice, they have a full week to respond. After that, a court date is scheduled and it can take up to two weeks for your case to be heard.
One of the key factors here is that you actually want to avoid the eviction process. Not only is it a pain, but it’s an expensive one that can sometimes result in tenant ire. All in all, evictions are just not fun for anyone. So, say you do let your tenant know that you’re going to proceed. One option that can save you both from the eviction process in Georgia is to let them know that if you do file that dispossessory notice: they’ll be responsible for those legal fees, as well. If they change their mind and do not want to go through the eviction process- that is, they decide they will pay, you can cancel the eviction process and avoid the whole mess.