Georgia Security Deposit Laws in 2024

In Georgia, there is no maximum limit set by law on the total amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, a security deposit cannot exceed 2 months' rent. This means if the monthly rental rate is $1,000 per month, the maximum security deposit allowed would be $2,000.  

Typically security deposits in Georgia range from as low as one month's rent to as much as 2 months' rent. Landlords with higher-end rental properties sometimes require first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit equal to one month's rent upfront.

While Georgia law does not limit security deposit maximums, some local ordinances do set legal limits on deposit amounts landlords can charge in certain cities and counties. Tenants should check their local rental laws to see if any restrictions apply in their area. In the city of Atlanta for example, the maximum security deposit is equal to 1.5 month's rent.

Timelines for Returning Deposits 

Under Georgia law, landlords have 30 days after a tenant vacates the property to return the full security deposit amount or provide the tenant with a written statement listing the reasons for retaining any portion of the deposit.

If the landlord fails to meet this 30-day deadline, they forfeit their right to withhold any part of the security deposit and must return the full amount to the tenant.  

There are no exceptions to this 30-day limit other than for military servicemembers. If the tenant is serving in the military, landlords have 60 days to return the security deposit when certain conditions are met.

Within this 30 or 60 day timeline, the landlord must either:

  • Return the full deposit amount to the tenant
  • Deliver a written statement and any remaining deposit balance to the tenant itemizing damages and fees and including copies of invoices and estimates for labor and materials

Failure to remit the deposit or provide a timely itemization results in the landlord forfeiting their right to retain any portion of the deposit.

Permitted Deductions

Landlords in Georgia may legally deduct from a tenant's security deposit for the following reasons:

  • Unpaid rent owed by the tenant
  • Damage to the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear
    • This includes damages caused by tenants, occupants, guests or pets
  • Costs of re-keying locks if tenant fails to return all keys
  • Utility bills left unpaid by the tenant
  • Failure to give proper notice when vacating the rental unit
  • Fees owed under the lease agreement such as: 
    • Late fees
    • Bank returned check fees
    • Fees related to keeping an unauthorized pet

Landlords may not deduct for normal wear and tear, which is defined as the natural deterioration from ordinary day-to-day use of the rental unit. Examples of normal wear and tear include:

  • Faded paint, dents in the wall, or carpet worn thin by foot traffic over time
  • Minor issues with appliances, fixtures or utilities due to prolonged use  

If the landlord believes the tenant abused normal wear and tear or otherwise damaged the property, the landlord must provide adequate evidence such as photos or repair estimates from vendors.

Failure to Return the Deposit

If a Georgia landlord does not return a tenant's full security deposit or provide a statement of deductions 

within 30 days of the tenant moving out, the landlord forfeits the right to withhold any part of the deposit.

In such a situation, the tenant has a few legal remedies available:

  • The tenant can sue the landlord in small claims or magistrate court to recover the full deposit amount. Withholding any of the deposit past 30 days is unlawful.
  • The tenant can recover damages in an amount equal to 3 times the security deposit sum if the landlord acted in bad faith or was willful in not returning the full deposit within 30 days.
  • The tenant may be awarded court costs and reasonable attorney fees related to recovering the security deposit. 
  • Georgia law allows for the landlord to be responsible for these costs if they wrongly withheld the tenant's deposit.
  • The tenant can also submit a complaint to the Georgia Department of Law's Consumer Protection Unit if the security deposit is not returned. The state may investigate or take legal action against landlords with multiple violations.

The failure to return deposits in a timely manner can end up being costly for landlords. It is critical they abide by the 30 days timeline in Georgia law to avoid legal consequences.

Surety Bond Instead of Escrow Account

  • Landlords are permitted to post a surety bond with the clerk of the superior court instead of placing tenants' security deposits into an escrow account.   
  • The surety bond must be equal to the total amount of security deposits collected from tenants.
  • Tenants cannot be charged fees related to obtaining or maintaining the surety bond. If the landlord opts for a bond instead of an escrow account, the tenants should not be financially impacted in any way.

Providing Tenant Lists of Existing Damage  

When a tenant moves in, Georgia law requires landlords to provide the tenant with a comprehensive list of any existing damage to the unit that exceeds normal wear and tear. This list should be as detailed as possible, with written descriptions of any marks, scratches, stains, damage to fixtures, appliances not functioning properly, etc. 

The tenant then has five (5) days to inspect the unit and add any additional items to this list. It's important for tenants to thoroughly check for any issues and document them clearly. This list will be a key piece of evidence if there is a dispute about deducting damage from the security deposit when the tenant moves out.

Once both landlord and tenant sign off on the final list, it establishes a record of the pre-existing condition of the unit. At move-out, the landlord can only deduct for new damages that occurred during the tenant's occupancy, not anything already noted on the initial checklist.

Tenants should retain a copy of the signed damage list for their records in case discrepancies arise when their deposit is returned. If the landlord tries to retain part of a deposit for pre-existing damage, having documentation that these issues were already present before move-in will help the tenant recover their full deposit.

Exempt Properties

Certain types of rental properties in Georgia are exempt from the state's security deposit laws:

Short-term rentals

Any rental agreement for less than 3 months is exempt. This includes vacation rentals, short-term corporate rentals, etc. The standard security deposit laws do not apply.

Non-residential properties

Rentals that are not used for living purposes, such as commercial or industrial properties, do not fall under the residential security deposit guidelines.  

Small landlords

Any individual landlord who owns 10 or fewer rental units is exempt. This applies even if the units are across multiple properties. However, incorporated landlords and property management companies cannot claim this exemption regardless of how many units they manage.

So in summary, short-term vacation rentals under 3 months, commercial properties, and small independent landlords renting out 10 or fewer units do not need to follow Georgia statutes on security deposits. All other standard residential rentals do need to comply.

Tenant Rights

All tenants in Georgia have certain rights with regards to security deposits, regardless of whether the unit is exempt from security deposit regulations.

Tenants have the right to:

  • Receive a comprehensive checklist detailing any existing damage to the rental unit before paying a security deposit. This gives the tenant the chance to inspect the unit themselves within 5 days and amend the list if necessary.
  • Have the full security deposit returned within 30 days after vacating the unit, unless the landlord provides an itemized statement of deductions for damages or fees owed.
  • Receive written notification within 30 days after paying the security deposit with details of the escrow account or bond where the funds are held.
  • Recover up to 3 times the security deposit amount in damages if the landlord fails to comply with security deposit regulations under Georgia law. Damages can also include court costs and attorney fees related to recovering the illegally withheld deposit.
  • Occupy the rental unit without having to pay fees for the landlord's surety bond if they choose to obtain one instead of an escrow account. The fees are the responsibility of the landlord.

Tenants should consult a lawyer if they feel their rights related to security deposits have been violated by a landlord. Resources are also available through Georgia Legal Aid and Atlanta Legal Aid to help renters understand and enforce their rights.

Landlord Responsibilities

Landlords in Georgia have several duties required by the security deposit law in order to properly handle tenant security deposits and comply with the statute:   

  • They must place deposits in a bank escrow account or post a surety bond with the superior court clerk within 5 business days of receiving the funds. 
  • They must notify the tenant in writing with details about the account or bond within 30 days.  
  • They are required to provide the tenant with a comprehensive list of any existing damage to the unit within 3 business days of receiving the deposit. The tenant then has 5 days to inspect the unit and add to the damage list if needed. This list will be used to determine damages versus wear and tear when the tenant moves out.  
  • Within 30 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord must return the full deposit or provide a written statement with specifics on why they are retaining all or part of the deposit. 
  • Permitted deductions include unpaid rent or fees, cleaning fees if necessary, and the cost to repair any damages beyond normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear cannot be deducted. 
  • If the landlord fails to return the deposit or provide a statement within 30 days, they forfeit the right to retain any portion of the deposit.
  • If the landlord does not comply with these security deposit laws, they may be liable for damages up to 3 times the deposit amount plus the tenant's attorneys fees.

The security deposit law provides important protections for tenants, and landlords must follow specific procedures and timelines in order to stay compliant. Ignoring these landlord responsibilities can be costly.

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