Category: Landlords/Renters

Attorney’s Fees in Georgia: Part One

Part 1: Contractual Attorney’s Fees

Virtually without fail, one of the first things our clients ask is whether they’ll be able to recover attorney’s fees from the other side. This is a fair question because it seems wrong to have pay an attorney when the other side has acted improperly or has caused the dispute. While not necessarily intuitive, the default rule, with exceptions, is that each side is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. We’re going to discuss some of the statutes and cases contrary to the default rule–these laws allow the winner of a lawsuit to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.

The most clear cut situation in which the winning party can recover attorney’s fees is when parties have signed a contract that provides for the recovery of  attorney’s fees. For example, a typical provision in a contract might say that “the prevailing party is entitled to attorney’s fees incurred to enforce or collect monies due under the contract.” In these situations, a trial court doesn’t have the authority to alter such an arrangement unless it is prohibited by statute, and the winning party is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees as a matter of law.

Contractual attorney’s fees were discussed by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Summit At Scarborough Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Williams, A17A1289 (decided November, 16, 2017). In that case, the trial court’s decision to deny a homeowner’s association attorney’s fees related to unpaid association dues was reversed because the association documents, which are considered a contract, provided for the collection of attorney’s fees. Thus, in cases where a contract provides for attorney’s fees, the trial court must award attorney’s fees based upon evidence of the reasonable value of the professional services provided by the attorney.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss what happens when there’s no contractual provision for attorney’s fees, but the opposing party has acted in bad faith.

Cozy: New Internet Service Makes Renting Easier

Cozy, which launched on June 6, 2013, is a new company hoping to make day-to-day issues facing landlords and tenants easier. The company is financed by Google Ventures, among others, meaning odds are in favor of this company succeeding.

Owning rental property is a great long-term investment; likewise, renting is a convenient solution for many who can’t afford or don’t want to buy property. However, as everyone knows, being a landlord or a tenant can come with some headaches.

To start with, for a tenant, finding a place to rent requires filling out several applications, which results in tenants having to provide personal and confidential information to complete strangers. For a landlord, finding a reliable tenant involves chasing down references, expensive background checks, and oftentimes guess work. Cozy aims to solve these issues. Renters create a profile in Cozy containing the personal information required on rental applications (e.g., references and job information). This information is verified through LinkedIn. Landlords can quickly and easily access this data. Once a tenant finds a place (or stops looking), he or she is able to remove access to his or her personal information. This provides greater security than filling out an old-school paper form or online application.

Likewise, landlords are able to create a profile and list of available properties, creating a central repository for tenants looking for rentals.

An important back-end feature offered by Cozy is online payments. No more the “check got lost in the mail” excuses. Using ACH direct debit payments, a renter is able to send money directly to a landlord’s account.

The fee to use this service is borne by the landlords, who are required to pay $9/month for every unit listed. But, if this service works as advertised, we suspect landlords will be glad to pay $9/month for the convenience provided. In order to become a viable option going forward, lots of landlords and tenants will need to sign up for the service. We wish Cozy luck and hope for its success.

At Gomez & Golomb LLC, we’ve been drafting leases, negotiating landlord-tenant disputes, and filing evictions for twenty years. Please call us for a free initial consultation to discuss your commercial or residential landlord-tenant issues.

Landlords’ Responsibility For Injured Third-Parties in Georgia

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case examines the issue of a landlords’ liability for injuries to a third-party. The case, Forsh v. Williams, A12A2248 (3/20/2013), involved a non-tenant injured by a tenant’s dogs.

The injured party alleged the landlord was negligent and reckless in failing to adequately screen his tenants, failing to enter into an agreement whereby the tenants were prohibited from having and keeping vicious dogs, failing to adequately inspect the premises, and failing to comply with legal requirements under state and federal law for ownership of rental property. The injured party also alleged the landlord failed to keep the premises in repair – as required under OCGA § 44-7-14 – by not installing an appropriate gate on the deck from which the dogs escaped, and failing to install fencing in the yard after knowing of the presence the dogs.

Under Georgia law, to be liable for injuries to third-parties, out-of-possession landlords are responsible to third-parties for defective construction or for failure to keep the premises in repair.

OCGA § 44-7-14, entitled “Tort liability of landlord,” provides: “Having fully parted with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant; provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.”

As long as landlord fixes defective construction and keeps the property in repair, presumably, the landlord is immune from claims from the third parties. The allegations referenced above, which include screening tenants and taking other proactive steps, go beyond a landlord’s responsibility in OCGA § 44-7-14.

So what did the court of appeals do? The court focused mostly on procedural issues, reversing the trial court and finding the landlord was not entitled to an outright dismissal at an early stage of the litigation. In favor of the landlord, the court ruled against the injured party on her claim under 42 USCS § 1437 et. seq., commonly referred to as Section 8. The injured party alleged landlord failed to comply with Housing Quality Standards requiring adequate infrastructure to keep the dogs confined either on the deck, in a suitable fence, or otherwise. The court of appeals found this federal statute couldn’t be a basis for liability, and an injured party’s claim is limited to OCGA § 44-7-14.

If you have any questions about Georgia landlord liability for injuries, please call us at 404-382-9994. We have twenty years of experience handling these cases.