Leases and rental agreements are legal contracts between landlords and tenants that cover crucial business details, such as who can live in the property and limits on occupancy. State laws vary in terms of the specifics you’ll need to include in your rental documents. For example, Georgia requires more notice (60 days) for landlord to terminate a rental agreement than most states do. This article discusses the top ten items to include in your Georgia lease or rental agreement.
Terms to Include
1. Names of Tenants and Occupancy Limits
Every adult who lives in the rental unit, including both members of a married or unmarried couple, should be named as tenants and sign the lease or rental agreement. This makes each tenant legally responsible for all terms, including the full amount of the rent and the proper use of the property.
Your agreement should also clearly specify that the rental unit is the residence of only the tenants who have signed the lease and their minor children. This guarantees your rights to determine who lives in your property (ideally, people whom you have screened and approved) and to limit the number of occupants. The value of this clause is that it gives you grounds to evict a tenant who moves in a friend or relative, or sublets the unit, without your permission.
2. Rental Agreement or Lease
Every Georgia rental document should state whether it is a rental agreement or a fixed-term lease. Your choice will depend on how long you want the tenant to stay and how much flexibility you want in your arrangement.
Rental agreements usually run from month-to-month and self-renew unless terminated by the landlord or tenant. Your rental agreement should specify when the rental agreement begins and how much notice that you (and the tenant) will give to end the tenancy, as well as how much notice you will give to change the rental agreement. Under Georgia law, you must give tenants 60 days’ written notice to terminate or modify a month-to-month rental agreement, and the tenants must give you 30 days’ notice to end the tenancy.
Leases, on the other hand, set a specific beginning and expiration date, and obligate both landlord and tenant to a specific term, typically a year.
Your lease or rental agreement should specify:
- the amount of rent
- when it is due (typically, the first of the month)
- whether there’s any grace period before rent is considered late
- how rent is to be paid, such as by mail to your office
- acceptable payment methods, such as personal check only
- whether late fees will be due if rent is not paid on time, and the amount of the fee, and
- any bounced-check fee you’ll charge if the tenant gives you a check that the bank will not honor. Under Georgia law, you may charge no more than $30 or 5% of the face amount of the dishonored check, whichever is greater; if your own bank charges you for processing the bounced check, you may add that amount to your fee.
4. Security Deposit
The use and return of security deposits is a frequent source of friction between landlords and tenants. To avoid disputes, your Georgia lease or rental agreement should be clear on all the details, including:
The dollar amount of the security deposit. Georgia does not set a limit, but most landlords find it impractical to charge more than one or two months’ rent.
Pre-existing damage. Georgia landlords must give tenant a list of pre-existing damage before collecting a deposit.
The use of the deposit, such as to pay for damage the tenant causes. It’s also a good idea to spell out how the tenant may not use the deposit (such as applying it to last month's rent).
When and how you will return the deposit. Under Georgia law, you must return the deposit within 15 days after the tenant leaves if you are returning the deposit in full. If you plan to deduct, you must send a written notice of intended deposit deductions within 30 days of the tenant’s departure; and you must account for and refund the balance of the deposit, if any, within 30 days after that.
Security deposit accounting. Georgia requires landlords to place deposits in an escrow account in a state or federally regulated depository, and to give tenants the location of the account.
5. Repairs and Maintenance Responsibilities
A key way to avoid rent-withholding hassles and disputes involving security deposits is to clearly set out responsibilities for repairs and maintenance in your lease or rental agreement, including:
- the tenant's responsibility to keep the rental premises clean and sanitary and to pay for any damage caused by his or her abuse or neglect
- a requirement that the tenant alert you to defective or dangerous conditions in the rental property, with specific details on your procedures for handling complaint and repair requests, and
- restrictions on tenant repairs and alterations, such as installing built-in bookshelves or painting walls without your permission.
6. Entry to Rental Property
To avoid tenant claims of illegal entry or violation of privacy rights, your lease or rental agreement should clarify your legal right of access to the property -- for example, to make repairs -- and state how much advance notice you will provide the tenant before entering. Georgia does not require landlords to give tenants a specified amount of notice before entry—although it’s a good idea to give a reasonable amount of notice, such as 24 hours.
7. Restrictions on Tenant Illegal Activity
To avoid trouble among your tenants, prevent property damage, and limit your exposure to lawsuits from residents and neighbors, include an explicit lease or rental agreement clause prohibiting disruptive behavior, such as excessive noise, and illegal activity, such as drug dealing on the rental property.
If you do not allow pets, be sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the subject. If you do allow pets, identify any special restrictions, such as a limit on the size or number of pets and a requirement that the tenant will keep the yard free of all animal waste.
9. Lead-Based Paint and Flooding Disclosures
Federal law require landlords to make certain lead-based paint disclosures before tenants move in. Georgia also requires that landlords disclose whether the living space has been damaged by flooding three or more times within the past five years.
10. Other Restrictions
Be sure your lease or rental agreement complies with all relevant state and local Georgia laws including health and safety codes, occupancy rules, and antidiscrimination laws. Any other legal restrictions, such as limits on the type of business a tenant may run from home, should also be spelled out in the lease or rental agreement. Important rules and regulations covering parking and use of common areas should be specifically mentioned in the lease or rental agreement.
Where to Find Georgia Lease and Rental Forms
For Georgia rental documents, including leases and rental agreements, see the Real Estate and Rental Property Forms section of Nolo. These ready-to-use legal forms include detailed, clause-by-clause instructions, that cover the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in Georgia. Options include the following:
Downloadable FormsGeorgia Residential Lease for Multiple Tenants
Georgia Residential Lease for a Single Tenant
Georgia Residential Rental Agreement for Multiple Tenants
Georgia Residential Rental Agreement for a Single Tenant