Renting means giving up the pleasures of paying property taxes, repairs, fat mortgage payments and the ability  choose your own carpet and wall colors.  It should not mean giving up your security deposit for no good reason.

Good landlords don’t want to keep it, anyway.  Really.  What they want is for tenants to leave the house or apartment in a condition (normal wear and tear excepted) requiring the least effort on their part to re-rent it.   As a property manager in Valdosta since 1980, that includes me.

In Georgia, there’s not a governmental agency with the power to intervene in most landlord – tenant disputes, so for landlords who won’t play fair with deposits, a tenant’s best friend will be Georgia’s Landlord/Tenant Act and its interpretation through the Georgia Landlord-Tenant Handbook.

In a Q & A format, the 87-page handbook is provided by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (www.dca.ga.gov) and Georgia Legal Aid.  Making a few common-sense moves may keep you from needing it, though.

The absolute best defense of your deposit is to know what’s in your lease – and live up to it.  Ask for and read a blank lease ahead of time.  If you have questions about the wording, ask the landlord or management company about them up front.  The Ga. Association of Realtors standard lease, used by most Realtors, conforms to state law, but private landlords may use leases that don’t. 

To address disputes over conditions of property before and after a lease, Georgia law describes the required inspection procedures for both landlord and tenant both before and after occupancy.  Specifics include pre-occupancy condition inspection, how soon a landlord must inspect after a tenant vacates and how the security deposit – or an explanation of any deductions – must be given to the tenant within a specified time.   The Law also describes what steps must be taken in a security deposit dispute.

A major source of contention is vacating before the lease expires.  MAFB personnel can legally break a lease with written proof of permanent change of station orders or temporary duty orders lasting more than 90 days, according to both state and federal law.  That does not exclude them from giving 30-day notice or from being responsible for damage to the rental beyond normal wear and tear.

Georgia’s Landlord/Tenant Law obviously covers much more than can be mentioned here, but most, if not all, of what you’ll need to confront an unfair landlord is in there.  Taking two or three hours to research landlord-tenant laws may be the most money you’ll make per hour all year, if it means rescuing several hundred dollars worth of security deposit.  (You may also find out that a landlord’s actions are justified, which, if nothing else, avoids wasting time going to war with the landlord.)

More easy money:  Get the check list which the landlord or the landlord’s cleaning company uses for cleaning a rental unit, so that you know, for instance, that “clean” may include baseboards, window sills, stove and oven controls, ceiling fan blades, kitchen and bathroom exhaust vents, the top of the refrigerator and carpet or other things you may have missed.

If the cleaning service minimum is $75 or $125 and three hours of cleaning gets your deposit back, you’ve just paid yourself $25 to $75 an hour. That’s not bad money for living up to something – the lease – you’ve already agreed to do, anyway.

One final note:  Many houses I manage below to former MAFB personnel who want to return or had difficulty selling, when transferred.  Your rent pays their mortgage and as such, it’s as important a part of their budget as it may be for yours.