Editor’s Note: This month we talked a lot about services that improve your well-being and prevent catastrophic financial outcomes. What if you’re past that point of prevention? What if you’re one of the millions of Americans facing eviction? We want you to know your rights if facing eviction, so Nav.it brought legal guru and fashion icon Patience Kaysee Saydee on board to address how you can protect your rights as a tenant.
by Patience P. Kaysee-Saydee
Generally, a tenant can be evicted for:
Failure to Pay Rent
Failure to Give Back the Property at the end of the lease term
While many jurisdictions have suspended evictions during Covid-19, there is still much uncertainty about how to handle these types of cases. The federal government has provided guidance regarding evictions and foreclosures via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Sections 4022 through 4024 of the CARES Act discuss mortgages and foreclosures, including eviction restrictions and mortgage forbearance.
For example, the CARES Act puts a 120-day suspension on evictions for tenants in properties that are part of government programs or that have a federally backed mortgage loan and 30, 90 or 180 days forbearance periods on federally backed mortgages. However, each state and jurisdiction has applied and/or interpreted the CARES Act differently.
Some jurisdictions are not accepting any new filings of evictions or judicial foreclosure, while others are accepting and processing new filings. Please check with the courts in your specific jurisdiction for accurate, up to date information regarding your legal rights.
Generally, under no circumstances are landlords allowed to conduct “self-help” or illegal evictions.
Landlords are required to go through the courts to evict tenants and Sheriffs and Marshalls enforce eviction orders, not landlords.
It is always advisable to contact an attorney for any legal issues. Attorneys are especially resourceful during confusing and troubling times such as during a pandemic.
However, if an eviction is filed against you and you are unable to retain an attorney, here are some things you can do to protect your rights as a tenant during Covid19:
If a landlord wishes to evict a tenant, the landlord must give the tenant notice and reasons why they are being evicted before filing formal eviction proceedings.
In Georgia, this notice is called a demand for possession. The time required between when the notice is given and when the landlord may file a formal eviction depends on the type of rental arrangement in place. For example, in Georgia, a tenancy-at-will or a month-to-month agreement requires at least a 30-days’ notice to leave. A landlord who violates notice requirements may be held liable and/or forced to start eviction proceedings all over again.
ANSWER THE EVICTION COMPLAINT ON TIME
Once an eviction is filed and the tenant is served, the tenant must file an “answer” or response.
Failure to file an answer may result in finding for the landlord against the tenant and expedited eviction.
In Georgia, tenants must file an answer within seven days of service of an eviction complaint. In your answer, you should give specific reasons for failure to pay rent, including reasons due to Covid-19. You should also state any other issues you have, including the landlord’s failure to make repairs to the property.
Some common defenses and counterclaims to an eviction include: improper service, improper or lack of notice, acceptance of rent by landlord after sending notice, you offered to pay the rent within time required and landlord refused to accept payment, constructive eviction, discrimination, retaliation, bad or uninhabitable conditions of the property, landlord violation of the lease, or proof that tenant did not breach the lease.
REVIEW LEASE FOR LANDLORD VIOLATIONS
Landlords can be held liable for any violations of the law and the lease. A landlord’s fault may eliminate or reduce any damages the tenant is responsible for.
HAVE PROOF OF DEFENSES AND COUNTERCLAIMS
Tenant must have substantial proof of any defenses or counterclaims against the landlord. Tenant should keep records of all rental payments made, notices, repair/maintenance requests, etc.
STAY UPDATED ON YOUR CASE
Tenant is responsible to keep track of the court process, deadlines, and hearing dates. Any missed filing deadlines or hearing dates could result in dire consequences for the tenant, including dismissal of any counterclaims, and/or an order for eviction in the tenant’s absence.
HAVE RENT PAYMENT AVAILABLE
If possible, keep all rent amounts owed and or due, even if the landlord refuses to accept your rent. In the event the court allows, you may be able to pay what is owed and stay in the property if you have all the funds available.
Although Covid19 may have slowed the court process down, especially for evictions, remember the tenant is still responsible for paying rent and should make any and all efforts to do so and/or have an alternative written agreement with their landlord to protect their rights in court.
Patience Kaysee-Saydee is the owner of Kaysee Legal Group, LLC, a law firm based in the metro-Atlanta area in Georgia. Attorney Kaysee-Saydee holds a B.A in Political Science and International Affairs from The Florida State University and a J.D. from Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans. Her law firm specializes in Real Estate (commercial and residential) and Immigration law. She’s recognized the need to determine the course of her own life and has been on a journey to live out God’s assignment and anointing on her life. Connect with Patience at Kaysee Law Group LLC or Instagram.