ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- It's the first of the month and rent is due. But what happens if you're out of work due to coronavirus, you can't afford to pay the rent and the landlord is threatening to kick you out?
Let's first look at how the eviction process generally works.
If the rent is not paid, for example, the landlord can't just kick a tenant out. They must first give the tenant notice to leave. It's called a demand for possession. At this point the tenant does not have to leave.
The landlord then files the dispossessory, or eviction, papers in court. The tenant is served the papers by a sheriff's deputy, a marshal or a private process server approved by the court.
Within seven days of receiving the papers, the tenant must go to the courthouse or go online and file a written answer with the clerk. In answering the papers, a tenant can list defenses to the eviction case and put in what is called a counterclaim, for example, asking the court to award the tenant damages if the landlord didn't make repairs or provide heat.
At court on the hearing date, in some counties there is an opportunity for mediation between the tenant and the landlord. If mediation falls through or is not offered, there will be a hearing and a judge will make a ruling on the case. If the judge's ruling goes against the tenant, the tenant will have just seven days to move out.
So what is happening now with evictions amid the coronavirus crisis?
On March 14th, Georgia's Chief Justice declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency, suspending all but "essential functions" of the court until April 13th. The experts at Atlanta Legal Aid believe that the Supreme Court intended eviction hearings to stop during the order. However it is still possible that individual counties may still hold eviction hearings as an "essential function".
Atlanta Legal Aid says it is very important that if someone is served an eviction during this time that they contact their local county magistrate court, and file an answer within seven days if possible.
Under the new federal CARES Act, if you live in federally-subsidized housing, or if your landlord has a federally-backed mortgage, the landlord cannot file for eviction for non-payment of rent. This is in effect until July 25th. Watch this short video by clicking here.
The Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook is a great resource at all times for tenants, you can view it by clicking here.
Georgia Legal Aid has resources relating to Covid-19 and legal rights in general. View them by clicking here.
Legal Aid’s attorneys and staff are working remotely during this pandemic. Our main intake lines remain open, and our staff can be reached through their regular email and phone lines. We are not accepting walk-in appointments, so please do not come to the office. To reach Legal Aid, please call 404 524-5811 or call your Legal Aid attorney or staff contact directly.
COVID-19 ALERT REGARDING PUBLIC BENEFITS
Unemployment applications can be submitted online here: https://dol.georgia.gov/ or call your local career center to apply by phone.
The career center locator is online here: https://dol.georgia.gov/locations/career-center
Eligibility for food stamps/SNAP has been expanded during this emergency. Apply for food stamps/Medicaid online here: https://gateway.ga.gov/access/
To find food pantries in your area, text FINDFOOD (one word, no space) or COMIDA to 888-976-2232.
How do eviction rules apply to Extended Stay tenants?
Due to the lack of affordable housing in Georgia (in the metro Atlanta area in particular), a significant number of Georgia residents are finding themselves in Extended Stay properties/long-term hotels in order to avoid homelessness. Week-to-week, and even day-to-day, tenancies in long-term hotels may be governed under Georgia Landlord-Tenant law. Based on the details of a tenant’s stay, the tenant may qualify as a “tenant at will” under the law, which would give him or her legal rights and the extended stay hotel would have to go through formal eviction proceedings in their county’s Magistrate Court.
Can they be forcibly removed?
It depends on the details of the individual’s situation. Important factors include length of stay, whether the unit was furnished with everything the individual needs during his/her stay (ex. Toiletries), etc. As a baseline, if an individual has lived in an extended stay property for at least 90 days, they have rights protecting them from being forcibly removed.
If you don’t pay your rent, your landlord may still be able to file an eviction notice, you can’t ignore so what can you do?
Right now, the landlord can file an eviction, but the courts are not currently hearing any eviction proceedings due to the pandemic. If a tenant is served with an eviction, we are still advising them to file an Answer online within 7 days, but they will not have a hearing until the Courts are back in session and prepared to schedule hearings.