For the near future, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton recommended that local courts try to stay open for limited, essential functions such as issuing domestic abuse restraining orders, according to a recent order. But the legal proceedings required for landlords to evict tenants have ground to a halt in Fulton County and elsewhere.
This may seem like welcome relief for tenants, but not all landlords are willing to follow the rules. At the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, attorneys worry the closures may lead to a spike in illegal evictions.
“Our concern is we’ll see landlords getting frustrated and trying to set people out on their own. That’s illegal,” said Erin Willoughby, a senior attorney in the agency’s Clayton & South Fulton office.
Once Georgia courts resume normal operations, legal eviction filings may rise as workers lose their jobs or rack up expensive medical bills. Georgia doesn’t provide any relief for tenants unable to pay rent, Willoughby said.
Also, unscrupulous employers may claim that employees they laid off during the slowdown were fired for cause. This ruse helps employers dodge higher unemployment taxes payments, but cheats laid off workers out of unemployment checks.
And if schools remain closed, lawyers expect to hear from parents with children in special education programs. Public school systems are required to educate them, but it’s unclear what this will look like as courses move online.
“I expect to see a little bit of everything,” Willoughby said.