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Do you rent your property out with appliances included? By appliances we mean washer, drier, and so on? If so, you need to read this.

It’s a few words about appliance repairs and how some judges are viewing who handles these repairs in a rental home.

Let’s explain.

For years, a provision in our standard tenant leases stated the tenant, not the landlord, handles repairs to appliances in a rental property.

By appliances, we mean the washers, driers, and refrigerators the landlord leaves in the property as a courtesy.

Georgia state law considers these appliances – even if owned by the landlord and not by the tenant – as “personal property” rather than “real property”. This means the landlord is under no obligation to pay for any repairs to them while a tenant is occupying their property and using said appliances.

Our provision always reflected that in our standard leases and reduced our clients expenses.

This is how it’s been for years until we ran into a judge this year who viewed things differently. As a result, we’re changing this provision.

It started with an eviction case earlier this year in Atlanta.

The tenant was way behind on their rent, but claimed in court a reason was because he had a broken washing machine and the landlord wasn’t fixing it.

Now putting aside the fact the amount of rent the tenant owed was much more than whatever the cost to repair the washing machine would be, our lawyers pulled out the lease stating the landlord wasn’t responsible for this repair. They also pointed out that Georgia state law doesn’t deem the landlord responsible either.

The judge didn’t care.

She took the line that appliance repairs where the landlord’s responsibility. And then she told our lawyers to never bring a case into her courtroom again where appliance repairs were not a landlord responsibility.

Our lawyers say his judge isn’t alone in her opinion. They’ve been seeing more judges sharing this view in recent months.

So in the light of this case, we need to ask if what this judge ruled was in line with Georgia state law or not.

The answer to that, in our opinion (and the opinions of our lawyers), is a clear, emphatic no.

A washing machine is not attached to the house, so doesn’t count as “real property”. By every definition of the law, a washing machine counts as “personal property”. And as personal property, under Georgia law, the landlord is not responsible for any repairs.

The problem here is, though, to fight this, we’d need to file an appeal against the original judge’s ruling.    

Possible to do – maybe even winnable – but very expensive and not worth doing. I mean, what if the appeal judge shared the opinion of the original judge?

So sometimes it’s better to lick your wounds, accept the ruling. That’s our advice in cases like this when considering an appeal.

The downside is by not appealing, the judges’ opinions end up find themselves almost codified into law even though no formal statute exists on the books for them.

Another good example of this is with late fee restrictions.

We work in both Georgia and Florida, and neither state has a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge a tenant for a late fee.

But if you go into court charging more than a 10 percent late fee, you might well find yourself in front of an angry, unsympathetic judge who will throw those fees out.

The result of this is nowadays, almost no one will try to charge more than a 10 percent late fee.      

Opinion after opinion of successive judges has made 10 percent the de facto law, even though the real law says nothing about this.

Again, it’s one of those things where it’s not worth risking in the first place and then appealing over later if you lose.

The fact is, landlords have to suck this stuff up sometimes.

It’s a sad fact of life that magistrates and judges have power on what you can and can’t do as a landlord. Sure, some might be on your side, but you never know who you’ll get on the bench in front of you. You could also get a judge who sides with the tenant in cases like these, despite what the law says.

And so we’ve taken out the provision in our standard leases saying that the tenant is responsible for any repairs to appliances. Now our leases will say that the landlord is responsible for these repairs.

We’re not happy about doing this. But we reckon it’s the best way to protect our landlords and prevent them from running afoul of what local judges and magistrates will accept.

Our job is to keep you, the landlord, out of trouble in court. And although this change might disappoint for you, it’s in your best interests given the opinions we’re seeing from judges right now.

Given this change, we have a solution for you to avoid any issues with appliance repairs.

The solution is simple: Have no appliances in your rental property! With no washer or drier in the property when the tenant moves in, they can’t take you to court for not repairing them. And a judge can’t rule in their favor. This is the easiest solution – take out the appliances before a tenant moves in.

Now that said, sometimes you’re expected to include a refrigerator as part of the rental. There might not be much you can do about that, although we can advise you on a case-by-case basis.

But no one expects a washer and/or drier included, so don’t include them. That nips any potential problem in the bud right.

We hope you found this legal update helpful. As ever, if you have questions, hit us up with an email at support@gtlrealestate.com and we’ll be happy to speak to you.

Until next time.