Exclusive: Fulton judge battling devastating eviction court delays

Chief Magistrate Court judge says her office is trying to reduce the crippling delays impacting landlords, tenants and rental prices across metro Atlanta.
The judge says her office is trying to reduce the crippling delays impacting metro landlords, tenants and rental prices.
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 11:26 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2023 at 7:21 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Eviction court backlogs continue plaguing metro Atlanta landlords and courts, but Fulton County’s Chief Magistrate Court judge said her office is working to reduce delays.

“We are always trying to figure out a way for us to work this together because it’s uncomfortable for me to hear cases are taking so long,” Judge Cassandra Kirk said. “We don’t want to be back at that place anymore.”

Atlanta News First Investigates first reported on the crippling eviction court backlogs in July. Since then, more frustrated landlords from around metro Atlanta have come forward, complaining they filed for evictions six to eight months ago and are still waiting on court dates.

“We’re borrowing money to pay for mortgage,” Vladimir Yampolsky, a DeKalb County landlord, said. “We’re in the red. We’re about to lose our house.”

“We’ve gotten no answers,” Laverne DeLoach, a landlord in Clayton County, said. “We’ve made phone calls to every person we can think of, every number we’ve been given, just dead ended.”

“I have to cover the mortgage, the taxes, all of the expenses on that property with no compensation for it,” Fulton County landlord Steve Hodges said.

All of these landlords are reporting the same issues. They say their tenants stopped paying rent, so they filed for evictions. Months later, they’re still waiting for their court dates.

“A corporation might have deep pockets to cover that sort of thing but a single- or two-house business doesn’t,” Hodges said.

None of these landlords are corporate landlords. They all invested in real estate to save for retirement and now, are all struggling to stay afloat.

“It’s a financial threat for our family,” Hodges said.

Kirk said she’s never seen the courts this backed up. She said the delays are partly due to the pandemic, but mostly due to attorney scheduling.

“We – like all of the other metro counties - share this pool of attorneys and they are only available to Fulton on certain days,” Kirk said.

Right now, those attorneys are only in Fulton County on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, which is a small window for the 7,000 landlord/tenant cases that must be heard.

As an alternative, those who file for an eviction “pro se,” or without an attorney, can have their case can be heard any day of the work week.

“If you have pro se cases, those cases are moving within 30 days,” Kirk said.

Kirk acknowledges there’s a problem but says her office is working to reduce delays. That includes opening up zoom mediation slots to allow attorney cases to appear outside of their scheduled trial date for faster resolutions.

But delays go beyond the courtroom. Once a ruling is issued, all evictions in Georgia must be supervised by a marshal or sheriff’s deputy. Some of those agencies are also playing catch-up. As of July, 2,600 cases in the Fulton County Marshal’s Department were waiting to be completed.

“It’s ridiculous,” another Fulton County landlord, George Fountain, said. A Fulton County judge ruled in Fountain’s favor in May, but four months later, he’s still waiting for the eviction to take place.

“It’s almost like the laws are to protect the tenants, which I understand, but it’s so much protection to where now you’re doing an injustice to the landlords and owners, who are trying to invest and use those investments as part of their retirement,” Fountain said.

After Atlanta News First Investigates got involved, Hodges now has a court date and Fountain now has an eviction date scheduled.

The eviction court backlog isn’t an issue only impacting landlords and the tenants they’re trying to evict. Eviction court backlogs are also affecting renters and rental prices across metro Atlanta because many metro Atlanta landlords are raising rent or security deposits to compensate for the additional risk.

“They’re looking for a place where their risk is low,” Todd Ortscheid, CEO of Revolution Rental Management, said. “If they’re looking at that, they’re going to say, ‘I have a much better opportunity in these outlying counties than I do in Fulton or DeKalb just because my risk is higher in those counties.’ I’d recommend looking at Spalding, Coweta, Henry, Cherokee. There are opportunities still out there if you’re going to invest in new properties.”

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