Can your landlord make you responsible for maintenance?
The tenant claims the landlord wanted her to fix the broken furnace; the landlord says she only wanted the tenant to pay a $125 service fee.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - When LaToya Copeland signed a lease for a house in Hampton, Georgia, she missed an important clause. The landlords, a couple living out of state who actually owned the house, included this requirement:
“Tenant will be responsible for all maintenance after the first 30 days.”
But what does “all maintenance” mean, and is the clause legal under Georgia Law?
When Copeland told her landlords about a broken furnace, she claimed the couple wanted her to pay for the repairs.
Copeland also said the couple blames her for not dripping the faucets during January’s record freeze.
Atlanta News First Investigates showed the leasing agreement to a tenant’s rights attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid.
Erin Willoughby said Georgia Law isn’t clear on many landlord-tenant issues. However, “one place where it is quite clear is that landlords have a non-delegable duty to make necessary repairs that they are aware of,” Willoughby said.
TiaCiara McNair said she never intended to make Copeland responsible for repairs but did want her to pay her home warranty’s $125 service charge.
“And then every time there’s an issue, and something needs to be done, she always has something going on with her schedule,” McNair claimed.
Willoughby said because Georgia Law requires landlords to maintain the property, and the requested $125 service charge was not included in the lease, the landlord has no right to ask for it.
One thing all leases require is payment on the first of the month. McNair said Copeland was repeatedly late but caught up in December. Then, in January, Copelan, withheld rent to get the requested repairs.
Willoughby said withholding rent is the worst thing a tenant can do because it allows the landlord to file for eviction.
Here are the takeaways from this story:
- Tenants need to consider the consequences of withholding rent because landlords will file to evict. Hiring a repairer and deducting rent is legal, but experts said the landlord will most likely reject the payment and file for eviction anyway.
- If the tenant has the means, a better option is to “Repair and Sue” in small claims.
- The best option, though, is compromising. Neither side wants to end up in court: the landlord loses income waiting for a hearing, and the tenant gets an eviction on their credit, making it difficult to rent again.
Copeland’s landlords gave her a few days to pay January’s rent but said she decided not to pay. They offered to let her break the lease and return one-half of her deposit, but Copeland declined.
Copeland texted Atlanta New First, “Thank you for your help and advice.” She said she will take her chances in court.
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