Legislative Update - Week 7

Posted By: Stephen Davis Legislative Updates ,

Crossover Day Looms Large

Monday, March 8 is the critical Crossover Day milestone.  It is the final day for Senate Bills to pass the Senate and House Bills to pass the House if they are to have a chance at making it to the Governor’s desk this year.  The House and Senate are expected to work late into the evening on Monday to consider as much legislation as possible.
 
The looming deadline means committees have been exceptionally active this week as they perfect measures and position them for consideration in full chambers by Monday.  There were over 90 committee meetings this week alone.  Despite this, most bills that have been introduced will not come out of committee or meet the Crossover Day deadline.

Landlord-Tenant Legislation

Lease Termination for Stalking Victims (SB 75)         
Sen. Jackson, D-Stone Mtn

Scheduled for debate in the Senate on Mar-5
SB 75 provides for lease termination for victims of stalking.  Members of the Association met with the sponsor to discuss her initiative on February 4.  Working with the sponsor and committee chair, the Association testified that the industry does not object to the substitute version of the bill, which tracks current language related to victims of domestic violence.  Related legislation (SB 197) is also active; it amends the definition of “place” relative to stalking to include the residence.  Click here for additional information.
 
Other pending landlord-tenant bills include:

  • “Family Violence” Expansion (HB 231), expanding the applicability of protective orders involving victims of stalking to include certain acts between persons who have or are dating or conceived a child.  This would impact the circumstances under which a tenant can terminate their lease.
  • Disregard COVID Evictions (SB 206), prohibiting a landlord from refusing to enter into a rental or lease agreement based solely on the prospective tenant being previously evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Eviction Notices to Tenants (HB 301), adding additional notice requirements for the termination of tenancies.  Click here for additional information.
  • Landlord Consent for Home Business (HB 467), prohibiting certain counties from requiring proof of a landlord's consent to the operation of a home business when collecting occupation taxes or regulatory fees.
  • Right to Cure (HB 408), changing the procedures required to initiate a dispossession, including a demand by the owner and a tenant’s opportunity to cure.  Click here for more information.
  • Tenants’ Bill of Rights (HB 524), requiring landlords to provide residential tenants with a notice of tenants' rights and responsibilities prior to the commencement of any residential rental or lease agreement.  For more information, click here.
  • Warranty of Title (HB 344), stating that a general warranty of title does not limit or encumber rights arising from the relationship of landlord and tenant.  For more information click here.

Other Property Management Legislation

Crime and Safety Notices to Tenants (HB 138)                
Rep. Mainor, D-Atlanta

Favorably reported from the House Judiciary Cmte on Mar-4
As originally introduced, HB 138 required landlords to obtain and provide notice to existing and prospective tenants regarding crimes occurring on the premises.  On February 9, the Association testified in opposition to the measure before a House Judiciary Subcommittee.  Subcommittee members were generally concerned about the availability of crime information specific to individual properties.
 
In response to those concerns, the Committee amended the legislation.  It now places the onus of compiling crime information specific to apartment properties on local law enforcement.  There is no longer an obligation for the landlord to provide notice to existing or prospective tenants.  Click here for additional information.
 
Asbestos and Silica Claims (HB 687)                            
Rep. Kelley, R-Cedartown

Assigned to the House Civil Justice System Cmte on Mar-3
HB 687 revises filing requirements for asbestos claims and silica claims and provides for nonliability of product liability defendants in certain circumstances.
 
Wavier of Liens (SB 143)                                                    
Sen. Tippins, R-Marietta

Assigned to the House Judiciary Cmte on Mar-1
In a 2019 court case, the Georgia Court of Appeals[1] determined that when a contractor signs a lien waiver, it waives claims for “all purposes,” not only for the preservation of lien rights, unless the contractor files an affidavit of nonpayment or a claim of lien within 60 days. 
 
In 2020, the legislature adopted legislation to update the lien law and preserve the ability to pursue breach of contract claims or other rights and remedies available under the law.  SB 143 corrects a scrivener’s error in the mandated notice.
 
Trial Bifurcation (SB 189)                                                    
Sen. Cowsert, R-Athens

Voted down in the Senate Judiciary Cmte on Mar-2
SB 189 allows for civil trials to be separated into two parts – one to determine liability, and if liability is found, a second to determine damages.  After a lengthy presentation in the Judiciary Committee on March 2, the vote was called.  The Chair cast the tie-breaking vote in opposition to advancing the bill.
 
COVID Liability Extension (HB 112)                             
Rep. Kelley, R-Cedartown

Pending in the Senate Judiciary Cmte
HB 112 extends last year's legislation to provide certain immunities from liability claims regarding COVID-19 by one year, until July 14, 2022.
 
Childhood Lead Exposure Study Committee (HR 52)    
Rep. Dempsey, R-Rome

Pending in the House Rules Cmte
HR 52 creates the Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure, noting that a leading source of exposure is older residences.
 
Other pending property management items include:

  • Blighted Properties (SB 227), creating a new condemnation process aimed specifically at buildings over 500,000 square feet built prior to 1995 that have been unoccupied for ten consecutive years.
  • Coal Tar Sealant Products (SB 262), prohibiting the application and sale of coal tar sealant products frequently applied to driveways and asphalt parking lots.
  • Credit Reporting Moratorium (HR 72), urging the US Congress to enact legislation placing a moratorium on negative credit reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Description of Rental Property (HB 184), prohibiting the false representation of a residential rental dwelling.
  • Funding Database (HB 180), requiring state and local governments to maintain databases of sources of funding available to the public, including rental assistance and other housing-related programs.
  • Hairstyle Discrimination (SB 61), prohibiting discrimination based on natural hair.
  • Military Fair Housing Act (HB 299), enacting the "Military Fair Housing Act" to add veteran or military status to the protected classes.
  • Vehicle Booting (HB 400), prohibiting the use of boots or other vehicle immobilization devices statewide unless first explicitly authorized by a local government, including vehicles illegally parked on private property.
  • Victims of Sexual Assault (HB 489), providing for a protective order for victims against persons who have committed acts of sexual assault.

Property Taxation & Valuation Legislation

Rehabilitation of Historic Structures (HB 469)          
Rep. Stephens, R-Savannah

Scheduled for a vote in the House on Mar-5
HB 469 extends the existing tax credit program for the rehabilitation of historic structures until December 31, 2022.  While a previous version revised the program and expanded it to include certain workforce housing projects, the current legislation simply clarifies the sunset.
 
Special Council on Tax Reform (SB 148)                         
Sen. Hufstetler, R-Rome

Pending in the House Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Cmte
SB 148 creates the 2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure.  The goal of these groups will be to launch a comprehensive review of the state’s revenue structure, including tax incentives, later this year and implement recommended reforms in 2022.  The bill has been co-signed by 38 of the Senate’s 56 members.
 
Continuing Ed for Board of Equalization (HB 292)      
Rep. Williams, R-Cordele

Pending in the Senate Finance Cmte
HB 292 removes certain continuing education requirements for members of county boards of equalization following their initial training for their first term.
 
Excise Tax on AirBNB (HB 317)                                   
Rep. Stephens, R-Savannah

Scheduled for a vote in the House on Mar-8
HB 317 expands the state levy of a nightly $5 excise tax to all rooms, lodgings, and accommodations, including those furnished by "marketplace facilitators" like AirBNB.
 
Other pending property taxation and valuation items include:

  • Exemption for Public Property (HB 151), terminating an exemption from ad valorem taxation for public property owned by a political subdivision outside of its territorial limits.
  • Taxation of Condemned Property (HB 137), clarifying that otherwise taxable income resulting from compensation to a taxpayer for the governmental condemnation of the taxpayer's real property is not subject to state income tax.

Code Enforcement, Land Use & Development Legislation

Professional Engineers Act (HB 476)                             
Rep. Washburn, R-Macon

Adopted by the House on Mar-1
HB 476 removes Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors from the Professional Licensing Board at the Secretary of State’s Office.  It creates a new independent state agency to license and regulate those professions.
 
Priority Lien for Interior Designers (HB 480)                
Rep. Washburn, R-Macon

Adopted by the House on Mar-3
HB 480 provides for the creation, declaration, amendment, notice, and priority of liens for labor, services, or materials performed or furnished by registered interior designers.
 
City Housing Authorities (SB 144)                                    
Sen. Tippins, R-Marietta

Pending in the Senate Rules Cmte
SB 144 limits the ability of city housing authorities to operate outside municipal boundaries without authorization.
 
Alternative Plan Review (SB 49)                                            
Sen. Dixon, R-Buford

Pending in the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Cmte
SB 49 allows for alternative plan review, permitting, and inspection by private professional providers, allowing applicants to select this option at the onset of the process, rather than waiting 30 days for the local government.  The applicant is still required to pay the local government 50% of their regulatory fee if they opt for a private provider.
 
Other pending code enforcement, land use, and development items include:

  • Education Members to Planning Commission (HB 221), allowing local boards of education to appoint members to local planning commissions.
  • Environmental Impact Reports (HB 279), requiring local governments to post contents of environmental effects reports on their official websites.
  • Environmental Justice Commission (HB 431, HB 432), creating the Environmental Justice Commission to consider the disproportionate effect of environmental hazards on low-income communities.
  • Housing Tax Credits (HB 311), amending the state’s housing tax credit to no more than 50% of the federal housing tax credit allowed.
  • Local Ordinances and Codes Clearinghouse (HB 187), requiring local governing authorities to compile all local ordinances, property maintenance codes, codes of technical regulations, and associated fines and penalties.
  • Tax Credits and Bonds (HB 66), providing that local school systems, counties, and municipal governing authorities can become parties to bond validation hearings.
  • Zoning Procedures Clearinghouse (HB 186), requiring local governments to compile all zoning decisions and post them on the local government's website.

General Business Legislation

Remote Online Notarizations (HB 334)                                
Rep. Gullett, R-Dallas

Adopted by the House on Mar-3
HB 334 allows for remote online notarizations.  This has been allowed by Executive Order during the pandemic; this legislation seeks to make the allowance permanent.
 
Uniform Mediation Act (SB 234)                                       
Sen. Kennedy, R-Macon

Favorably reported from the Senate Judiciary Cmte on Mar-2
Created by the Uniform Law Commission and the American Bar Association, the Uniform Mediation Act is intended to keep mediation communications confidential and promote alternative dispute resolution.  For more information, click here.
 
S-Corp Income Tax (HB 149)                                       
Rep. Williamson, R-Monroe

Pending in the Senate Finance Cmte
HB 149 allows registered S-Corporations to deduct state and local taxes on their federal tax return, as was allowed before recent federal tax reform.
 
Remote Shareholders’ Meetings (HB 306)                    
Rep. Gunter, R-Blairsville

Pending in the Senate Judiciary Cmte
HB 306 provides that a corporation may hold annual shareholders' meetings and special shareholders' meetings by means of remote communication and provides requirements for such meetings by remote communication.  This has been allowed by Executive Order during the pandemic; this legislation seeks to make the allowance permanent.
 
Cybersecurity Standards (SB 52)                                     
Sen. Thompson, R-White

Pending in the House Judiciary Cmte
SB 52 provides standards for cybersecurity programs to protect businesses from liability.

Legislative Index & Additional Information

HB 138: Crime and Safety Notices to Tenants                 
Rep. Mainor, D-Atlanta

The amended version of HB 138 requires local law enforcement to compile and post monthly “a summary or listing of all crimes involving the commission or attempted commission of murder, assault, battery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, rape, peeping tom, gang-related crimes, or felony drug crimes for which a person was charged with the crime or arrested by [the local law enforcement agency] that occurred on or in property which is used as an apartment building or apartment complex … that consists of ten or mental rental units.”
 
The legislation further requires the law enforcement agency to maintain the reports on its website for at least two years and make paper copies available to the public.  The legislation exempts local law enforcement agencies with less than ten certified peace officers.
 
The original version of the measure required landlords to provide crime notices to existing and prospective tenants every six months and maintain records of the notification.  Failure to do would be deemed an unlawful practice in renting dwellings under state fair housing law, OCGA 8-3-4, subject to up to $50,000 as well as punitive and actual civil damages.
 
 
HB 301: Additional Eviction Rights for Tenants        
Rep. Park, D-Lawrenceville

This measure adds additional notice requirements for the termination of tenancies. 
 
Section 1 of the legislation amends state law related to dispossessory proceedings to require a 14 days’ notice by a landlord for a termination due to refusal to pay rent or damage beyond normal wear and tear.  In either case, the tenant has the ability to remedy the deficiency and avoid eviction.  For other defaults in the lease agreement, the landlord is required to provide a 30-day termination notice.  If the tenant commits a violent act, engages in criminal activity, or threatens to be a real and present danger, the landlord need only provide three days’ notice.
 
Section 2 amends state law relating to the issuance of summons, service, time for answer, and defenses and counterclaims.  It extends the window for the tenant to answer a summons from seven to fourteen days.  Section 3 relates to when tender of payment by tenant serves as complete defense and similarly extends the window for the tenant to be allowed to pay all rents owed from seven to fourteen days.
 
Section 4 amends state law relating to judgment, writ of possession, landlord’s liability for wrongful conduct, distribution of funds paid into court, and personal property.  It adds the following new language:
(c)(1) Following the entry of a judgment in favor of the landlord and against the tenant for the possession of the premises and forfeiture of the tenancy due to nonpayment of rent, the court, at the time of the show cause hearing or trial or upon subsequent motion of the tenant but before the execution of the writ of possession, may stay the writ of possession upon good cause and on such terms that the court deems fair and just for both parties. In making this decision, the court shall consider evidence of the following factors:
(A) The tenant's willful or intentional default or intentional failure to pay rent;
(B) Whether nonpayment of the rent was caused by exigent circumstances that were beyond the tenant's control and that are not likely to recur;
(C) The tenant's ability to timely pay the judgment;
(D) The tenant's payment history;
(E) Whether the tenant is otherwise in substantial compliance with the rental agreement;
(F) Hardship on the tenant if evicted; and
(G) Conduct related to other notices served within the last six months.
(2) The burden of proof for such relief under this subsection shall be on the tenant. If the tenant seeks relief pursuant to this subsection at the time of the show cause hearing, the court shall hear the matter at the time of the show cause hearing or as expeditiously as possible so as to avoid unnecessary delay or hardship on the parties
 
 
HB 344: Warranty of Title                                                
Rep. McLaurin, D-Atlanta

HB 344 relates to covenants and warranties generally and states that a general warranty of title does not limit or encumber rights arising from the relationship of landlord and tenant.  It says specifically that:
“No covenant in this Code section [OCGA 44-5-62] shall be construed to be the same as any common-law covenant of quiet enjoyment between landlord and tenant, nor shall any limit on the applicability of a covenant provided for under this Code section be construed to apply to limit any common-law covenant of quiet enjoyment, express or implied, of any tenant in any claim against his or her landlord.”
 
 
HB 408: Right to Cure                                                        
Rep. Cooper, R-Marietta

HB 408 adds steps to the landlord’s demand for possession.  It is similar to an initiative the author pursued last year in partnership with the Enterprise Community Partners, Georgia ACT, and the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.  New language states that:
(2) Such demand shall be made in writing, shall state the amount of rent then past due or any other basis for the demand for the possession of the property, and shall be delivered to the tenant by:
(A) Hand delivery or by posting on the premises of such lands or tenements; and 
(B) First-class mail to the tenant's last known address. 
(3) Such demand shall: 
(A) State at no more than two inches from the top margin, in at least 16-point Helvetica font, and at least two inches apart from any other text, and in contrasting color to the color of the paper, the words: 'Landlord's Demand for Possession and Tenant's Notice of 7 Day Opportunity to Cure'; and
(B) Instruct the tenant of the means to provide payment or otherwise demonstrate compliance in curing the alleged basis for such demand within seven days or risk eviction. 
(4) The owner shall make such demand even if the owner believes that the tenant will refuse to comply with such written demand.
(5) Within seven days after the receipt of such demand by first-class mail, the tenant shall be allowed to tender to the owner and the owner shall accept all rent duly owed or to show that the alleged basis for such demand has been cured. If the tenant tenders such rent or cures such alleged basis, the owner shall not make an affidavit as provided for under subsection (b) of this Code section.
 
 
HB 524: Tenants’ Rights Notification                                    
Rep. Lim, D-Norcross

HB 524 requires landlords to provide residential tenants with a notice of tenants’ rights and responsibilities.  The legislation states that:
(a) Prior to the commencement of any residential rental or lease agreement, the landlord shall provide each tenant with a 'Notice of Tenants' Rights and Responsibilities' as provided in this Code section.
(b) The landlord and each tenant shall initial each page of the notice acknowledging that the landlord has provided and the tenant has received and reviewed the notice.
(c) The notice required by this Code section shall be typed in at least 14-point type and be in substantially the following form:
 
'NOTICE OF TENANTS' RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
***This is a summary of tenants' rights and responsibilities under Georgia law. This statement does not modify your rental or lease agreement or Georgia law. A lease cannot give up a tenant's rights under the law. The information below is not intended as legal advice. Tenants with questions are encouraged to contact an attorney or a local legal aid program.***
 
I. TENANTS' RIGHTS
Safe Housing in Good Repair

  • Tenants have the right to live in a safe rental home in good repair.
  • Right to terminate lease without penalty for any tenant experiencing domestic violence seeking to move out, under certain conditions.
  • Right, upon written request, to prompt response to request for repairs. The landlord must make repairs within a reasonable time under the law after notice is provided by the tenant.
  • If repairs are not made within a reasonable time under the law after notice is given, the tenant has three different remedies:
    1. Repair and Deduct: Tenant may make the repair and seek reimbursement from the landlord by deducting it from the rent.
    2. Constructive Eviction: If the landlord's failure to repair constitutes such a material interference with the tenant's use of the premises so as to render the premises uninhabitable under the law, the tenant may abandon the premises and cease paying rent.
    3. File a Lawsuit: Tenant may file a lawsuit and seek damages for diminution in value, property damages, and even punitive damages and attorney's fees.
  • Tenants can also assert failure to repair as a defense to a dispossessory action.

 
Fair & Equal Access to Housing

  • Tenants have the right to not be discriminated against when applying for, living in, or vacating a residence on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, familial status, or mental or physical disabilities.

 
Move In/Out Inspection & Return of Unused Security Deposit

  • Tenants whose landlord owns more than ten rental units and who pay a security deposit are entitled to a move-in and move-out inspection and the right to the return of any unused security deposit that may have been collected by the rental property owner or manager and a good faith accounting of any charges against that deposit within 30 days after the rental residence has been vacated.

 
Privacy

  • Tenants have a reasonable right to privacy in their apartment home.
  • Tenants are generally protected from government inspections or entry into their home without probable cause.
  • Inspections may be conducted by management or a third party, if prior notice is given and entry is made during reasonable hours. However, a landlord may enter without a tenant's consent in cases of emergencies.

 
Fair & Legal Dispossessory Process

  • Tenants have the right to a fair and legal dispossessory process in the event of nonpayment of rent or lease violations. The landlord must follow the strict requirements of the Georgia Landlord-Tenant law in order to lawfully evict a tenant.

 
II. TENANTS' RESPONSIBILITIES
Follow All Lease Provisions

  • Tenants are responsible for following all rules outlined in their signed lease agreement throughout their tenancy. The lease agreement binds both the landlord and tenant to the rights and obligations outlined therein.
  • Tenants are encouraged to carefully read their lease agreement prior to signing and ask questions about policies or areas of concern in order to avoid potential disputes.

 
Timely Payment of Rent

  • Tenants are responsible for making timely payment of rent on the due date in the amount and frequency as specified in the signed lease agreement.
  • Tenants are encouraged to reach out to their property manager or landlord as early as possible if they are concerned about the ability to make a rent payment to discuss options and resources that may be available.

 
Report Maintenance Requests

  • Tenants are responsible for alerting their property manager or landlord of any repair or maintenance request in writing as soon as the problem is noticed so that it can be addressed and further damage is prevented.
  • Tenants should note in the written maintenance request whether the repair is an "emergency" or affects the health and safety of the tenant to ensure an immediate response.
  • "Retaliatory Eviction" protections are part of the law to prevent landlords from retaliating against tenants who report maintenance issues to management or code enforcement.

 
Truthfully Represent Information on Rental Application

  • Tenants are responsible for providing accurate and true information on the rental application and related documents. Rental application fraud has a higher prevalence in Georgia than any other State. Losses from fraud are substantial, making it necessary to perform more thorough background checks.

 
Protect Belongings, Obtain Renters Insurance

  • Tenants are responsible for keeping their personal property safe and protected. While not legally required, many apartment communities encourage or may require in their leases that all tenants purchase renter’s insurance to protect themselves against the loss of property by fire, weather, or theft and other liabilities.'"

 
 
SB 75: Lease Termination for Stalking Victims           Sen. Jackson, D-Stone Mtn
In 2018, the Association worked with advocates and legislative leaders to enact HB 835, allowing victims of family violence to terminate their lease when a civil or criminal family violence order had been issued protecting the tenant or their minor child.
 
This year’s SB 75 expands the definition of “criminal family violence family order” to include stalking as defined at OCGA 16-5-90.  In keeping with the 2018 language, the tenant may terminate their residential lease agreement effective 30 days after providing the landlord with written notice of termination when the tenant is a documented victim of stalking.  The notice to the landlord must be accompanied by a copy of the applicable civil family violence order or criminal family violence order and a copy of the police report if the order was an ex parte temporary protective order.