Georgia Passes New Tenant Protection Law for Renters, Establishing Minimum Habitability Standards and Maximum Security Deposit Amounts

Georgia lawmakers passed in March a long-awaited tenant protection bill aimed at protecting renters from subpar living conditions. Passed through “HB404,” Georgia’s new “Safe at Home Act” establishes a minimum “duty of habitability” that requires landlords and property owners to provide tenants with rental housing that is sufficient for habitation and free from health and safety risks. Georgia is one of the last remaining states to have passed laws establishing minimum habitability standards for tenants. Governor Brian Kemp signed the “Safe at Home Act” into law in April.

Laws that seek to strengthen a state or local jurisdiction’s housing codes by ensuring that units meet a minimum set of habitability standards are critical in ensuring housing stability, especially for the lowest-income and most marginalized renters. Across the country today, and especially in Georgia, housing-related health and safety hazards are commonplace for renters. In 2023, more than 16% of all rental units across the U.S. had at least one habitability issue, including a lack of plumbing, a lack of kitchen facilities (such as working appliances), or a lack of smoke detectors. In Georgia, the number of households with severe housing habitability problems is at least 582,000, or 15% of homes in the state. Faulty housing structures can have detrimental effects for tenants and can exacerbate negative mental and physical health outcomes, leading tenants to develop asthma, causing developmental delays in children, heightening the risk of developing depression, and resulting in a host of other problems.

Among the most marginalized renters, habitability problems are not experienced equally across demographic groups. According to data provided by the American Housing Survey (AHS) in 2021, the share of Black, Indigenous, and Asian households suffering from moderately inadequate housing conditions across the U.S. is 7%, 10%, and 4%, respectively. In comparison, only 6% of white households suffer from moderately inadequate housing conditions, including lack of upkeep of a rental unit and its exterior premises. In Georgia, the numbers are far more pronounced, with 21% of Black families living in substandard housing conditions. In general, the lowest-income tenants living in areas with high concentrations of poverty are more likely to be at risk of experiencing health-related risks and habitability concerns in comparison to tenants in higher-income neighborhoods.

Moreover, tenants with maintenance issues and habitability concerns often fear retaliatory behavior from landlords if they raise concerns about habitability, and this can cause tenants not to report housing code violations altogether. In over 40 states today, retaliatory, harassing, or discriminating behavior perpetuated by landlords and property owners against tenants is prohibited. However, such behavior can be difficult to prove in a court of law, which can cause tenants not to report instances of habitability issues and in turn enables health and safety risks to persist.

Under Georgia’s new law, tenants are offered legal respite in the face of habitability concerns by requiring that a landlord or property owner keep the premises in good repair. This means that for any maintenance problems in a unit, it is the landlord or property owner’s responsibility to rectify the problem and bring the property back up to code, making the landlord or property owner liable for ensuring the property is habitable. For maintenance requests that go unchecked, a tenant is granted the right to assert a claim against a landlord or property owner in court by stating that the property is not fit for human habitation.

HB404” also guarantees two additional protections for tenants. In addition to outlining a landlord and property owner’s duties to ensure that the tenant’s rental unit is not in disarray and that all maintenance requests are addressed, the law also places limits on the amount of money that can be charged to a prospective tenant in security deposit fees, capping the amount that can be charged to a tenant at no more than two-months’ rent. By placing a limit on the amount that can be charged to a tenant in the form of a security deposit, a prospective renter is better positioned to secure housing without the burden of straining their budget to secure housing that is both accessible and affordable. Across the country, efforts to pass laws that limit fees, especially security deposit fees, have been growing. In 2023, for example, California passed “Assembly Bill No. 12,” which includes language similar to Georgia’s law. Under California’s law, a landlord is prohibited from requiring a security deposit from a tenant that is more than two-months’ rent.

For tenants who are at risk of eviction, moreover, the state has passed a provision to require landlords or property owners to provide tenants with at least three-days’ notice before filing for eviction due to non-payment of rent or nonrenewal of a lease agreement. Prior to the passage of “HB404,” a landlord or property owner was within their legal right not to provide notice to a tenant at all and instead was able to expedite the eviction process by filing an eviction case against a tenant without warning. Without notice, a tenant is left without sufficient time to rectify any infractions levied against them before an eviction is filed with the courts.

HB404” was supported by a broad-based coalition of tenants and organizations that advocated across the state for nearly two and a half years. A similar habitability law was introduced in the state legislature in 2023 but ultimately did not pass. An organization that spearheaded the advocacy efforts was Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Inc.(Georgia ACT), NLIHC’s state partner in Georgia.

“Regardless of race, color, class or creed, this issue was affecting everybody. Mold does not care what color you are or how much money you make,” said Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown, President and CEO of Georgia ACT.

Georgia ACT and several other organizations continuously bused constituents from across the state to Atlanta to share their stories directly with policymakers. “Advocates do what they can, but the main thing was that the legislators were hearing about the conditions their constituents were living in and seeing photos of their living conditions, and that made the difference regardless of if they were Democrat or Republican,” said Dr. Bambie.

Georgia’s new law will go into effect on July 1, 2024, and will apply to any new leases signed – or renewed – on or after that date.

Learn more about Georgia’s new law at: