While some aspects of the commercial landlord-tenant relationship are governed by Georgia statutes, for the most part, it's the terms of the lease that determines when a landlord can evict a tenant from commercial property in the state. The process is relatively quick and easy as long as the landlord has just cause for an eviction.
Georgia landlords can evict a commercial tenant for a number of reasons, including nonpayment of rent and material lease violations. The landlord needs a court order to legally evict a tenant.
When the Landlord Can Evict
A Georgia landlord can evict a commercial tenant who fails to pay rent on time or who stays in the property after the lease expires. Often, the lease will specify other eviction trigger events, such as using the property for a prohibited purpose and other material lease violations. Eviction trigger clauses are legally binding. If an eviction event occurs, the landlord must follow specific procedures outlined in the Georgia Landlord and Tenant Code to evict the tenant.
Demand for Possession Letter
The first step of the official process is for the landlord to send a Demand for Possession letter to the tenant. There's no specific form of this letter but generally, the landlord should specify the reason for the eviction and demand that the tenant vacate the premises and surrender possession to the landlord. Unlike other states, Georgia does not specify how long the landlord must wait before going to court – in theory, he could give the tenant as little as 48 hours' notice. If the tenant does not vacate by the due date, the landlord can ask a judge for an eviction order.
Filing for Eviction
Filing for an eviction order is reasonably straightforward – obtaining a court summons and filing a Dispossessory Affidavit. The affidavit specifies the reason for the eviction, the amount the tenant owes and a declaration that the tenant has failed to comply with the Demand for Possession letter. It's up to the landlord to serve the eviction papers on the tenant, preferably by sheriff, but Georgia also permits "nail and mail" delivery by posting the summons on the door of the property and then mailing a copy to the tenant. The tenant has seven business days to respond.
Court Issues a Writ of Possession
The court automatically will grant a Writ of Possession if the tenant fails to respond to the summons within seven days. Otherwise, both parties must appear in court. The burden of proof is on the landlord to show just cause to boot out the tenant – namely, that there's been a trigger event under the lease. If the judge grants an eviction order, the tenant has seven days to vacate the premises and pay any past-due rent. After seven days, the sheriff can forcibly remove the tenant and its possessions and change the locks.
Actions That Prevent an Eviction
An eviction fails if the landlord does anything to acknowledge the tenant's right to remain in the premises. For example, if the landlord accepts a partial rental payment, he is deemed to have forgiven the lease violation, and the Demand for Possession won't be valid anymore. Similarly, a landlord who accepts the keys before the end of the commercial lease cannot then sue the tenant for future rent payments. While it's tempting to remove a tenant's possessions if he does not vacate on time, Georgia courts have held that self-help evictions, without a Writ of Possession, are unlawful. The landlord could be held liable for wrongful eviction and trespass.