In the state of Georgia, a landlord should start the eviction process by filing a dispossessory warrant in the county where the rental property is located. The Magistrate Court has jurisdiction to hear landlord-tenant disputes, which includes dispossessory, or eviction, proceedings.
Basics of Eviction or Dispossessory Proceedings
A landlord must provide a tenant with 60 days' notice to terminate a tenancy at will. An eviction notice must describe the violation, such as nonpayment of rent, and the length of time the tenant has to fix the issue. If the tenant fixes the issue by the end of the notice period, they will again be in compliance with the lease agreement. If the tenant does not fix the issue, the landlord can ask them to leave and file for a dispossessory warrant if they refuse.
Georgia law states that after a tenant has been served with a dispossessory warrant, the tenant has seven days from the date of service to file an answer with the court. If the tenant chooses not to file an answer, the landlord may request an eviction on the eighth day. If the tenant chooses to file an answer, the court will set a date for an eviction proceeding and notify the landlord by mail of the court date.
If the court finds in favor of the landlord, it will issue a writ of possession. After the court issues this writ, the landlord must request an eviction within 30 days of the date of service. The landlord should contact the sheriff’s office to set up a time for the eviction. There is a filing fee for this service. Alternatively, the landlord can file a new dispossessory warrant.
Tenant’s Rights in Improper Georgia Eviction Process
When a landlord uses self-help to evict a renter without a dispossessory warrant, the landlord’s actions constitute a tort, or civil wrong, and the tenant may recover damages in a civil action. If a landlord cuts off utilities, the state may prosecute them for a misdemeanor offense. The maximum penalty for this offense is $500.
Collection of Judgment through Garnishment
When a tenant fails to pay back rent, a landlord can take a number of actions in Magistrate Court to force payment, but first the landlord must obtain a judgment in their favor. The landlord can file for continuing wage garnishment, which lasts for 195 days from the date of service or until the judgment amount is collected, whichever occurs first. If there is a balance due at the end of the 195 days, the landlord can file for a new continuing garnishment order.
A landlord can also file a regular bank garnishment to collect the amount due from the tenant’s bank account, credit union or from a general contractor. This garnishment is good for 45 days from the date of service. Both types of garnishments should be filed in the county where the garnishee is located. There are filing fees for both types of services.
Other Steps to Collect on a Judgment
A landlord can create post-judgment interrogatories, or questions, to see what assets the tenant owns to satisfy the judgment. These must be sent by certified mail. The tenant has 30 days from receipt to file an answer. If the tenant does not answer the interrogatories within 30 days, the landlord can file a request for a "show cause" hearing. There is a filing fee for this service.
The court will issue a writ of fieri facias, or a “fi.fa,” to record a lien on a judgment debtor’s property. After the fi.fa has been recorded, the Magistrate Court sends the document to the Superior Court where the document will be recorded on the general execution docket. A fi.fa allows the sheriff of the county to seize the assets of a judgment debtor through a levy. After a tenant has paid off a fi.fa and satisfied it, the landlord should file a cancellation of the fi.fa.
Appeal the Eviction
A tenant who does not agree with an eviction can appeal. An appeal will only stop an eviction if there is an order to pay rent or the market value of the property. The tenant must comply with that order every month as long as the appeal is pending.
A tenant has seven days from the judge’s order, usually the date of the hearing, to file an appeal. A tenant should file an appeal with the Magistrate Court. The case is then sent to state or Superior Court. A tenant must pay a filing fee for the appeal. If the tenant does not have the money for the filing fee, they can complete a specific affidavit to have the cost waived.
Changes Due to COVID-19 Coronavirus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an agency order on August 3, 2021, which puts in place a moratorium in areas experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The order will expire on October 3, 2021. A number of Georgia counties, including Chatham County, have eviction moratoria in place. Counties have postponed CDC-related dispossessory action hearings for nonpayment of rent because of the CDC order.
If a court ordered a hearing for CDC-related cases prior to the new CDC order, it will, or has already, sent out postponement notices to those affected cases. A party in a case can also visit the court’s website to learn whether their case has been impacted. The court will provide a new court date once it has the authority to reset hearings.
A tenant who wishes to be protected from eviction under the CDC’s order must sign and date a county-specific declaration and provide a copy of the declaration to their landlord. Every adult listed on the lease must sign and complete a declaration. Tenants are still required to follow all the other terms of their lease and the rules of the place where they live. The CDC’s order protects tenants only for nonpayment of rent.
Virtual Eviction Hearings Because of COVID-19
In-person proceedings in civil cases, including dispossessory cases, are being scheduled on a limited basis. The court is allowing cases to be heard through virtual hearings and trials. A party who wants a virtual hearing must file a written request to the court and send a copy of the request to all other parties.
If a party attempts to communicate with the court, but does not show notice to the opposing party, the court will not consider the request until it is shown that the other side was properly notified. If the court schedules a virtual hearing, it will send a written notice to all parties.
- Magistrate Court, Fulton County, Georgia: Landlord-Tenant (Dispossessory)
- Eastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia: About Magistrate Court
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC Issues Eviction Moratorium Order in Areas of Substantial and High Transmission
- Eastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia: Temporary Protocols for Civil Trials in Chatham County Magistrate Court
- Eastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia: Frequently Asked Questions
- Georgia Code: Section 44-7-14.1 Landlord's Duties as to Utilities
- Georgia Department of Community Affairs: How do I protect my household from eviction under the CDC Order?
- Georgia Code: Section 44-7-7 Tenancy at Will
- Fulton County Magistrate Court: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Eviction
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.