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Property Investors Beware: “self-Help” Evictions Are Never an Option

Poole Huffman, LLC

There are many benefits to owning investment property in Georgia. But, like any investment, there are also risks. Tenants can be unpredictable at best and destructive at worst. So what can property investors do when they are stuck with a troublesome tenant?

In Georgia, a landlord may evict a tenant if: (1) the tenant fails to pay rent as agreed; (2) the tenant remains in possession of the property beyond the term of the lease; or (3) there is a tenancy at will or at sufferance. See O.C.G.A. § 44-7-50. A landlord may also evict a tenant if the lease agreement identifies a condition that, if breached, allows the landlord to terminate the lease.

However, in order to evict a tenant, landlords and property managers alike must follow Georgia’s strict statutory eviction process. This process requires the landlord to make a formal demand for the tenant to surrender possession of and vacate the property, and to file a dispossessory action. Dispossessory actions are typically filed in the magistrate court of the county in which the rental property is located.

Dispossessory actions are required and cannot legally be waived in a residential lease agreement, even if the landlord and the tenant agree to the waiver. In fact, the eviction process must be used even if a property owner is attempting to evict a trespasser.

In most cases, the landlord’s objective in filing a dispossessory action is to regain possession of the property and to recover a judgment against the tenant for rent owed under the parties’ lease agreement. A landlord is able to legally regain possession of the property by obtaining a written order from the court called a writ of possession. Once obtained, a writ of possession can be delivered to the county’s marshals’ office and, if necessary, deputies will remove the tenant from the property.

Because Georgia requires property owners to use its statutory eviction process, it is illegal for a landlord to remove or attempt to remove a tenant using “self-help” measures. Self-help measures include, but are not limited to, changing the locks, turning off the utilities, impairing the tenant’s use of the property, or threatening the tenant. If a landlord or property manager takes any of these actions, he or she may be liable for wrongful eviction and/or trespassing, and can be subject to fines and any damages suffered by the tenant.

Finally, hiring a property management company does not relieve a property owner from liability. A landlord may still be liable even if the landlord’s representative is the one who wrongfully evicts a tenant in violation of the statutory requirements. Likewise, a property manager who participates in a wrongful eviction by the property owner may also be liable.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. It does not constitute advertising or solicitation. The information in this article may not reflect the most current legal developments; accordingly, this article is not guaranteed to be perfect, and should not be considered an indication of future results.

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