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Self help evictions, including changing the locks, are illegal in Georgia. You may file a lawsuit against the landlord for any damages you suffer due to his wrongful conduct. It is best if this type of action is pursued with the assistance of an attorney. If you cannot obtain an attorney, you can file a claim in the magistrate court of the county where the landlord is located. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14.1), a landlord who wants to force tenants to move must go through court and follow the dispossessory process. A landlord who suspends a tenant's utility service prior to the final judgment in a dispossessory action has broken the law and may be subject to a fine up to $500.
When you vacated the premises before the end of the lease term, it was a breach of the lease. If a tenant needs to move out before the end of the lease, they should tell the landlord that they are moving and explain why. Sometimes, tenants move out without telling the landlord. In this situation the tenants are considered to have abandoned the rental unit. Often tenants will leave personal items in the unit when they leave. A landlord must be cautious in declaring rental property abandoned and taking possession. If a landlord mistakenly declares the unit to be abandoned and removes the tenant's property, the landlord may be held liable for the items the tenant lost and for a wrongful eviction. While the tenant's property may not seem valuable to the landlord, the tenant may consider it to be very valuable and could sue to recover for its loss. A landlord should not consider property abandoned while rent on the unit is paid. The landlord should also determine if the tenant is still paying to have utilities furnished to the unit. The safest course of action is for the landlord to wait until rent is past due and file a dispossessory affidavit and obtain a court order for possession of the property. This will protect the landlord from liability if the tenant claims they had not abandoned the unit and their personal items. If the landlord does remove the tenant’s property without a court order, it is a good idea for the landlord to take pictures of the property disposed of in case the tenant raises a claim against the landlord.
The “writ of possession” allows the landlord to remove from his property the tenant and his/her personal property. The landlord can remove the tenant and those persons occupying the property with the tenant’s permission. Personal property includes the tenant’s general belongings such as clothing, furniture, dishes, and other household items. The landlord is responsible for the cost of the eviction and can use the service offered by the sheriff or hire a private company. Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 44-7-55) states that when the tenant’s personal property is removed from the rental unit it is to be placed on some portion of the landlord's land. If the landlord and the officer executing the warrant agree, the tenant’s property may be placed on land other than that owned by the landlord such as the sidewalk or street. The landlord owes the tenant no duty to protect the personal property removed from the unit. After the “writ of possession” is executed and the property removed from the rental property, the tenant’s personal property is considered to be abandoned.
It is important that when a landlord removes a tenant’s property that he place it on land outside the unit. The landlord is not required to protect the property from third-parties or the weather. It is very important that the landlord set the property outside the unit. A landlord who does not do so may be sued by the tenant for conversion. For example, it is improper for a landlord to hire persons to remove the property and transport it elsewhere. The tenant’s property must be placed on the land outside the rented unit.
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