Tag: tenant

Wrongful Eviction in Georgia

[We apologize, but our office no longer accepts tenant wrongful eviction claims. If you are a tenant, please contact Georgia Legal Aid at www.georgialegalaid.org or the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation at https://avlf.org/get-help/evictions/.]

There is a lot of confusion regarding evicting a tenant and wrongful eviction. One question is the amount of damages a tenant is entitled to if wrongly evicted. The issue was addressed recently by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Hart v. Walker, 347 Ga. App. 582 (2018). In that case, the landlord wrongfully evicted the tenant by changing the locks when she and the tenant got into a dispute.

If you’re a landlord, please don’t do this—in almost all instances, a landlord in Georgia must file an eviction in court to deprive a tenant of possession. Georgia is not a self-help state.

In the Hart case, the tenant sued the landlord claiming wrongful eviction and damage to personal property. He also claimed out-of-pocket expenses. The trial court ruled that although the tenant was wrongfully evicted, the tenant wasn’t entitled to recover damages against the landlord. The appeals court agreed. At trial, the tenant’s expert testified to the fair market value of the items, but the tenant couldn’t convince the trial court that he owned the items in question. The appeals court explained that the trial court could consider the credibility of a witness and, if the witness isn’t credible, can reject the witness’ testimony. Here, the trial court didn’t believe the tenant that he owned the items in question. Regarding the tenant’s out-of-pocket expenses for food and a motel, the appeal court noted that the tenant would have to incur such expenses regardless of the wrongful eviction. Therefore, these damages were too remote.

While this case addressed damages, as a landlord, if there’s a takeaway from this blog, it is that changing the locks wrongfully evicting a tenant isn’t the way to go. The landlord, in this case, was fortunate that the tenant could not recover significant damages.

Langley: Important New Personal Injury Case

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, A18A0193 (May 1, 2018), just issued by the Georgia Court of Appeals, may have a big impact on many future Georgia personal injury cases. Langley involves a residential landlord-tenant relationship in which a tenant sued her landlord for injuries more than a year after the injuries occurred. Normally, in Georgia, an injured party has two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, in this case, the landlord moved to dismiss the case because the lease provided only one year to sue the landlord.  This is the exact language in the lease:

Limitation on Actions. To the extent allowed by law, Resident also agrees and understands that any legal action against Management or Owner must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.

Focusing on the word any, the Court of Appeals ruled that any legal action included not only breach of contract claims but also personal injury claims. Thus, the lease trumped Georgia’s statute of limitations. The Court reasoned that parties should be free to enter into contracts without interference from the courts.

At Gomez & Golomb, we practice personal injury and real estate litigation. Thus, for us, Langley cuts both ways. It’s bad for our personal injury clients, but good for our real estate and corporate clients. From now on, in personal injury cases, we will be looking even more closely at applicable contracts for language that may limit injury claims. For our real estate and corporate clients, we will be advising them that Langley opens the door to include terms in their contracts that limit liability.