Renter nervous about providing credit report

My recent column of advice to prospective tenants drew more than its share of response from readers. The following are typical of the comments I received:

Q: Why should I obtain a copy of my credit report and share it with the rental manager of the property I want to rent? For starters, it’s none of his business, and more than that, I don’t know what he might do with my credit report. What if I asked him for his credit report?

A: The owner is being asked to turn over to you almost complete control of an asset worth perhaps a hundred thousand dollars, in exchange for little more than a written promise that you will pay the rent when it falls due. In my opinion, your landlord has a perfectly legitimate right to see how you have handled your financial obligations in the past, and in particular, to see if past landlords were satisfied with their decision to rent to you.

Q: I rent this old house from the lady who used to live here, but she now lives in a retirement community. She never ran an ad, but I saw a sign in the yard and saw the house and just moved in. We agreed on the monthly rent, but never signed a lease and we never did any “move-in” form as you suggested. Is this legal?

A: Georgia law allows verbal agreements for rentals provided they do not exceed one year in duration. So long as your memory of the terms coincides with the memory of the owner, all should be well. However, if her memory fades and you have a disagreement, it’s largely your word against hers.

Q: You quoted Georgia law as saying “if you don’t pay, you don’t stay.” I missed one month’s rent due to a furlough at work, and now they are trying to evict me. What should I do?

A: Because they are threatening legal proceedings against you, my first advice is to consult with an attorney. Most landlords I know would be happy to accept the past-due rent and reinstate your lease so long as you pay the appropriate late fee and commit to prompt future payments. If your landlord refuses to accept rent and insists on an eviction proceeding, you should know that Georgia law provides the tenant with the opportunity to “start over” by paying all past-due rents plus late fees and court costs at the time of the dispossessory hearing. Such payment is a “complete defense” against the eviction, provided the tenant has not used this defense in the previous 12 months.

Q: As a landlord, I ask my tenants to take care of minor repairs and maintenance items at their own expense. In exchange, I knock fifty bucks a month off their rent. Is that kind agreement acceptable?

A: Sure. You and your resident can agree to almost anything that suits the two of you. However, Georgia landlord-tenant law specifically prohibits a residential landlord from attempting to transfer the responsibility to repair to the tenant. In your scenario, if your tenant stopped making repairs and you attempted to evict them on that basis, I suspect your arrangement would be set aside in a courtroom, and the court would look to you as the party responsible for repairs.

Q: My rental manager told me that all leases in Georgia must be for at least one year. Is that true?

A: Georgia law is silent on the matter, meaning that the landlord and the tenant are free to negotiate whatever term they wish.

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John Adams is a broker, investor, and author. He answers real estate questions every Sunday at 3 pm on WGKA-am(920). He welcomes your comments at Money99.com, where you will find an expanded version of this column.

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