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Don’t Contract Your Rights Away: Read the Fine Print in Georgia Leases

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The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion allowing a provision in a residential lease that limits the time a tenant can bring any sort of legal claim, including a personal injury case. According to the opinion issued May 1, parties have the ability to contract away “numerous and substantial rights” unless prohibited by statute or public policy.

The case involved an elderly tenant in Morrow, Georgia who was injured when she slipped on a collapsing section of the curb in the common area of her apartment complex. The woman’s injuries necessitated knee replacement surgery on both legs, and two years later she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the apartment complex owner, MP Spring Lake LLC, in Clayton County Superior Court.

In defending the suit, Spring Lake pointed out a provision in the woman’s lease which stated: “To the extent allowed by law, resident also agrees and understands that any legal action against management or owner must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any legal action filed after one year from such day shall be time barred as a matter of law.” Under Georgia law, the statute of limitations for personal injury actions is two years from the date of injury.

The superior court judge found in favor of Spring Lake and declared the woman’s lawsuit to be time-barred. She appealed, but the Appeals Court sided with the lower court, effectively giving blanket immunity to anyone who puts such a provision into a contract in Georgia.

Don’t Skip Over the Fine Print

According to the National Apartment Association (NAA), few people take the time to read their leases, and as a result, many tenants are uninformed as to the terms they are actually agreeing to. The plaintiff in the Spring Lake case has acknowledged that she never noticed the disputed provision in the contract she signed.

Lesson: Don’t sign your legal rights away – check your lease to make it contains no limitations now allowed under Georgia law.

 

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