How to Evict a Guest in Georgia

A guest does not have the same rights as a tenant.
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A house guest can overstay their welcome and, despite the owner's nudging them, refuse to leave. After a time, the owner gets fed up and starts thinking about eviction. It can't be that hard to oust a guest, right? In Georgia, the answer isn't simple.

When it comes to evicting house guests in Georgia, it's all or nothing. If the guest is a true house guest, it can be easy to get them out. But if they have acquired the status of a tenant at will – and it doesn't take much – eviction requires a trip to court. Regardless of whether the guest is a friend or a family member, and regardless of the fact that they never signed a rental agreement or paid a dime of rent, they are very likely to be considered a tenant-at-will in Georgia. That means that it is important to learn the basics of Georgia eviction laws.

Guest vs. Tenant Under Georgia State Law

In Georgia, a true house guest can be summarily tossed out if they overstay their welcome. For a tenant, however, the landlord must serve notice, file a law suit and appear in court to argue their case. That makes it important to figure out if an unwanted person in the house is a guest or a tenant.

It seems that it might be easy to tell the difference between a house guest and a tenant. A guest, one may think, is someone invited to stay at someone else's dwelling, often a family member or friend, and usually for a relatively short period of time. While a guest might bring a hostess gift, they don't pay for the right to stay. On the other hand, one thinks of a tenant as a person who signs a lease agreement and pays rent.

Giving Payment Leads to Tenancy

In Georgia, the question of whether someone is a guest or a tenant for eviction purposes is much more nuanced and far less certain. Under Georgia law, a person doesn't need to pay rent or sign a rental agreement to be considered a tenant. All they have to do is offer some payment or service in return for the lodging.

Because of this, someone who comes into a Georgia home as a guest may change their status to that of tenant-at-will if they contribute money to the household or if they cook, clean, babysit or offer other services to the person who invited them. In fact, even just intending to offer money or services can transform a guest's status to that of tenant.

Critical Distinction in an Eviction

In Georgia, the distinction between guest status and tenant status is central when it comes to evictions. A true house guest is one who came in as a guest and never compensated or intended to compensate their host by kicking in money or performing services. This house guest is termed a licensee in Georgia. If they overstay their welcome and refuse to leave, the host can ask the police to summarily remove them.

On the other hand, if the guest has gained tenant status, Georgia law requires that they be evicted under the same court procedures as someone who signed a written lease. Since there is a fine line in Georgia between a true invitee and a guest with tenant status, anyone in this situation may want to get legal advice before taking action.

Creating Tenant Status

Exactly how does a guest become a tenant in Georgia? First, if the homeowner accepts money from a guest for their stay, they become a tenant. Even if a landlord does not charge rent, a landlord/tenant relationship might be created when the landlord gives someone the right to stay on at the property.

There are no hard or fast rules for this, but any exchange of services may be enough to form a tenancy-at-will if no date is set for the end of the guest's stay. Simply allowing them to receive mail at the property can be sufficient to bestow tenancy. This will be bad news for the homeowner since, under Georgia law, a tenant-at-will must be given 60 days' notice before an eviction lawsuit is filed.

Unless it is undisputed that the person at issue came into the dwelling as a house guest and never changed their status, the homeowner may be better off filing a tenant-at-will eviction. First, Georgia police may be unwilling to escort someone out of a house where they appear to be living if that person claims to have a right to be there. They may prefer to leave it to the court. Second, it is entirely possible that a house guest who stays for more than a few weeks has taken some action that will give them tenant status.

Evicting a Tenant at Will

Evicting a tenant in Georgia is a matter of following the statutory rules. There is no rent board or government agency to whom a landlord or tenant can turn for help in interpreting the landlord-tenant laws. Rather, when landlords and tenants cannot resolve disputes, they need to follow the eviction laws and take the matter to the state courts to enforce their legal rights.

Georgia landlords cannot remove or lock tenants out without first going through the court eviction process, or dispossessory process as it is known in Georgia. Self-help evictions are illegal, and a renter is permitted to remain on the property until there is a court order. During this time, the landlord cannot change the locks or cut off utilities.

Beginning Eviction Proceedings in Court

Under Georgia law, before a landlord can evict a guest who has tenant status, they must serve the person with written notice to move out. The eviction notice must state the names of the parties, the address of the dwelling and the time by which they must move out. If the tenant is a tenant-at-will, the notice period is 60 days.

If the guest/tenant fails to leave within that period, it is time to file a dispossessory affidavit under oath in the magistrate court in the county where the property is located. The affidavit must include:

  1. Landlord's name.
  2. Tenant's name.
  3. Reason the tenant is being removed.
  4. Verification that the landlord demanded possession of the property and was refused.

Once the affidavit is filed, the sheriff serves it on the tenant together with a summons.

Moving to Eviction

The Georgia summons served on the tenant requires that they respond within seven days from the date they are served with the documents. This is the sole opportunity the tenant has to explain why they should not be evicted. Someone who came in as a house guest may have a difficult time offering a valid defense, but as long as they file a response to the summons, the court will hold a hearing at which they can present that defense.

If the court rules for the landlord, it will issue a Writ of Possession. This orders the tenant to move within seven days. The local sheriff supervises the removal of a tenant who refuses to leave the property.