Tenant at will
Well, I recently found myself in court with an inherited tenant. When I say inherited, I mean the tenant was in place when we bought the property. Our problem was not because of nonpayment but instead because of an unruly dog.
Now, I like dogs. And our company is pet friendly. But when I did the inspection on the house, I could see this animal did not have a good demeanor. It would do things like constantly bark at you when you approached the house, even after being greeted and in the presence of the tenants. They had to restrain him while I was there because he was constantly circling behind me like when a dog is about to hamstring something on a hunt.
After we purchased the property, there was an altercation with the animal and a neighbor, who was also our tenants. We decided the animal was a safety hazard and needed to leave. So, we gave the tenants a letter of demand stating they either needed to remove the animal or move from the property. The tenants refused, and we found ourselves in court.
The Judge came into the courtroom and asked what the issue was. I explained that the animal had become a safety hazard. I told about the altercation, gave supporting evidence, and left it at that. The judge asked me if my lease said the tenant couldn’t have a dog. I told him I had inherited this lease, and that it didn’t explicitly say they could or could not have a dog.
That’s when the judge said he could not evict based off the evidence I presented.
My jaw dropped a little bit at that.
Here I was with an aggressive dog, who appeared to me to be a clear and present danger, and my judge didn’t see it as a big enough deal to give me back control of my property.
Next, I revealed to the judge that we had given the tenants a 30-day written notice that we were terminating their lease. The judge questioned me on the 30 days, asking if they were on a lease. The tenants and I both confirmed that they were on a month-to-month that was still in place from the previous owner.
The judge asked me what was the lease end date. I told him we were past that date, but that the verbiage of the lease said that if neither party had given a written notice to terminate prior to the end date of the lease that it would continue on a month-to-month basis until a 30-day written notice was given.
That’s when he said, “Oh, this is a holding over situation. They are a tenant at will and you have to give them a 60-day notice.”
I went through what the lease said again, explaining that if no written notice was given, then the lease would perpetuate on a month-to-month basis. He kind of looked at me funny when I said perpetuate and asked to see the lease.
Ya’ll, I didn’t bring it. I wasn’t there for a lease violation. I was there for a safety violation to remove people who were not willing to remove an unruly animal when I told them to. And since I couldn’t produce the lease for the judge, he saw them as a tenant at will, ruled that my 30-day notice would be extended, and that tenants would now have a court ordered move-out date of 60 days from when we issued our 30-day letter.
The judge reiterated this to the tenants and made sure they understood that they still had to pay their rent during those 60 days.
The gavel dropped, and so did my jaw once again.
The reason my jaw dropped this time was because my leases have the same language in them about continuing on a month-to-month if a termination letter was not received after the lease end date. And because of that, I was worried I was now vulnerable in our paperwork.
I went from the courthouse, directly to my attorney and told him everything. I explained about the dog, I explained the 30-day notice, about the lease being set up to perpetuate past the end date and how the judge called that situation a “holding over” and had determined that the tenants were a tenant at will.
I told him how all my leases have the “month-to-month after end date” language in it and that, according to what the judge said, anyone that I forget to re-lease would become a tenant at will and would no longer be subject to the terms and conditions in my lease.
My attorney reassured me that was not the case by taking me to the code. O.C.G.A. 44-7-6 defines someone without a written lease or a lease without an end date, specifically where no time is specified for termination of a tenancy, as a tenant at will.
My attorney said that our lease has an end date with a monthly extension built in that keeps the tenant contractually bound until one party terminates by giving a 30-day notice. And since there is a written lease, that they are contractually bound by that has a specified termination of tenancy built into it, they are not, by definition, a tenant at will.
That made me feel lots better. When I asked why the judge had ruled it the way he did, my attorney said he must have just not understood what I was saying. Then he asked me what the judge said after he read the lease. I had to tell him I didn’t bring it.
Now, I understand why I should have.
At the end of the day, I could file for a motion for the judge to reconsider, provide him with the lease where he could read the language for himself and probably get the timetable moved to the 30 days we stated to begin with. Am I going to do it? No.
You see, it is a tough rental market right now. And the tenants are probably going to need the extra time to locate a place to move to. Besides, I have a 60-day, court-ordered move-out date. If they default, I get an immediate writ of possession, and the judge told them they have to continue to pay their rent during the move-out period. That is a good outcome for us, and it gives the tenants a little longer, and I’m good with that.
Joe and Ashley English buy houses and mobile homes in Northwest Georgia. For more information or to ask a question, go to www.cashflowwithjoe.com or call Joe at 678-986-6813.