Housing advocates say a bill proposing new tenant protections is a step in the right direction for Georgia, which has weak tenant protection laws, but it still fails to properly shield people from predatory and negligent landlords.

Proposed by a bipartisan slate of lawmakers, House Bill 404, the “Safe at Home Act,” unanimously passed the Georgia House on March 2 by a 168-0 vote, and it’s currently under consideration by the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on it Monday at 4 p.m. 

For the first time in Georgia, this bill would “provide for a duty of habitability for certain rental agreements,” which is a muddled way of saying landlords would have to guarantee their units are livable. Any rental contract is “deemed to include a provision that the premises is fit for human habitation,” the bill says. It also specifies that utilities mean air conditioning, along with heat, light and water service.  

 The bill would also cap the amount landlords can charge for security deposits at two months’ rent and require landlords to give three days notice before they can file an eviction against a tenant who’s behind on rent or utility bills.

Housing advocates say the current draft is an improvement over past iterations, which allowed landlords to charge three months’ rent for a security deposit and allowed a landlord to evict a tenant before the lease expired for “criminal activity.” 

However, they criticize the four-page bill for the brevity and vagueness of the provision that a dwelling must be “fit for human habitation.” The bill provides no further guidance or details on what that actually looks like, which makes it hard to enforce, they say.

That comes when landlords overall have more power than renters, because it’s very much a landlord’s market in Atlanta and statewide, at a time when ongoing rent hikes far outpace wage increases.

The bill doesn’t define “habitability,” advocacy group Housing Justice League pointed out in a statement, calling for a “more explicit” explanation of how landlords would be held accountable for providing apartments that are indeed habitable.

The working language leaves open the possibility that landlords interpret the word to their benefit, the group worries.

Relatedly, the bill does not clearly specify “how a tenant may enforce the law if a landlord fails to provide habitable premises,” said Michael Lucas, the head of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.

“The legislature could improve the bill by adding a definition linking habitability to relevant housing codes and other core protections,” he said, “and by giving tenants a meaningful enforcement method.”

Lucas also said the part of the bill that gives tenants a three-day notice to remedy unpaid rent and other fees before the landlord can file for eviction should offer renters more leeway.

“The period should be expanded to at least seven days—and should apply to all evictions, not just nonpayment cases,” he said. 

Housing Justice League supports the current legislation, after successfully lobbying to cut the two problematic provisions to prematurely evict people for “criminal activity” and allow landlords to charge three months rent as a security deposit.

Still, the group said in its statement, HB 404 must be “just the first step in passing stronger regulations to protect Georgia’s renters.”

Georgia has some of the weakest tenant protection laws in the nation, in part because many state legislators are also landlords, Atlanta Civic Circle has reported.

Housing Justice League also successfully lobbied for the Atlanta City Council to pass a resolution establishing a local tenant bill of rights last year. The measure created the city’s Office of the Tenant Advocate, urged property owners to inform tenants of their legal rights, and called on landlords to afford renters a warning before filing an eviction against them for nonpayment of rent.

But the city council legislation is non-binding; neglectful or exploitative landlords are not required by law to abide by any of those statutes.

The city council resolution also urged state lawmakers to repeal the decades-old Georgia ban that prevents local counties and cities from enacting rent stabilization measures, such as limits on rent increases. Legislation proposed by state Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) to do just that died in the Senate before Crossover Day on March 6.

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  1. Rent is due on the 1st of the month. Always has been always will be. Excuses for additional leeway to pay rent when we all know when rent is due is simply wrong.
    Additional Security Deposits are implemented when the renter has a “less than stellar” credit and certainly is a reason to ask for additional Security. I have worked my entire life obtaining and keeping excellent credit. It is not cheap or easy, however, there are great benefits for maintaining a good credit rating.
    As always, the left wants to bring down success & advance failures. Funny how they complain when people are GIVEN things they do not EARN, and then complain when it doesn’t work out. Exactly like the last time as they passed Dodd/Frank. That lowered banking standards for credit evaluation so people could buy a home. Of course when you extend credit to people who cannot afford the credit (that means they cannot make debt payments to service the loan), they default on the loan and get evicted. Because of Dodd/Frank there were millions of these non-preforming loans that defaulted and hence the banking crisis & Recession the last time.

    1. Get a clue. Born and raised here in Georgia. My family ate all conservatives and I’ve personally been involved in local republican politics in the past. The provision you chose to focus on is lower on the priorities list.

      This isn’t about a home owner who is renting to someone.

      This is about slumlords who own multiple properties around the city and literally refuse to comply even with law enforcement.

      If you are actually concerned about crime and waste of tax dollars, then it’s time to start the absurd protections of individuals who often DONT EVEN LIVE IN GEORGIA who are happy to pay $1,000 fines like they are speeding tickets while they let our communities deal with the consequences of their negligence and lack of accountability.

      Yea I agree. People should take more responsibility. Maybe people with “poor credit” should be required to go above and beyond to establish credit worthiness, but if you don’t believe the owner on the other side of the contract should be held to minimum standard then please don’t pretend like you care about anything other than a talking point.

  2. Right now in Atlanta Ga I’ve paid my rent every month on time for almost eight years then I receive A letter I owe 4600 and now I’m up for eviction when I’ve paid they can just do this who protects me who upholds my fair right where’s the protocol and I’m not even under a lease but they had me being in all my documents but never would sign my lease and I need help this is landlord Abuse

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