There is no law in Georgia that caps late rent fees. Landlords are free to charge reasonable late fees as long as the terms are included in the lease or rental agreement.
Late Fees in Georgia
Georgia's landlord-tenant law doesn't address late fees, allowing landlords to make their own decisions. The lack of regulation also means that there isn't a limit on the amount a landlord can charge, though Marcia Stewart at Nolo.com states that "under general legal principles," a landlord can't require tenants to pay an "unreasonable" late fee. Stewart offers some general principles:
- The landlord shouldn't start charging a late fee immediately after the rent is due. Stewart suggests landlords allow at least three days to pass before tacking on a late fee.
- Late fees generally should be limited to less than five percent of the rent payment, unless the rent is very late.
Stewart's suggestions aren't Georgia-specific, however, so tenants who believe that their landlord's late fees are excessive may have to go to court to resolve the matter. Some Georgia courts support mediation programs that allow landlord and tenant to work out disagreements without having to go before a judge.
If there is no mention of a late fee in the lease or rental agreement, a landlord can't require a tenant to pay one. Landlords who want to charge late fees should make sure that their leases clearly state that late rent payments will incur additional charges. The lease also should include the fee amount.
Defining "Late" and Grace Periods
Rent is due on the day specified in the lease. Many landlords set the due date as the first of the month, but tenants and landlords can negotiate another date according to their preferences. Some leases specify a due date but don't require payment if that date falls on a weekend or holiday. Instead, the tenant has until the next business day to pay his rent.
While the law doesn't require it, some landlords offer a grace period between the rent due date and when they charge a late fee. The lease should specify whether the landlord offers a grace period and how long it is. According to the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook, a landlord can establish a grace period unintentionally if he consistently accepts late rent payments and doesn't charge a late fee.