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My apartment complex(GA, USA) has a 3 strike violation policy.

Today I received a strike. Very vague description, just the reason being: "disturbance".

I left work early to speak with staff in person to ask what the violation was about. So a week ago, the building which my unit resides in received information about complaints over the smell of weed.

7 days ahead, my violation strike is apparently the complex saying it's me.

I was not answered on if any other units were also hit with a strike. I asked if an inspection was done, or any form of action to verify - because it's not me or my wife. We can smell the odor as well from time to time, so we do know someone in building is smoking it - but I was told, no, no verification or inspection was done to verify who it was.

So I asked what made them send a violation to my unit - they replied that the complaints said it was coming from one of the back units most likely a terrace unit.

My unit is not the only terrace unit - so I asked again what specifically made them suspect us and just slap us with a violation strike.

No concrete answer was given - just a spiel over the legality of weed in GA - my question was dodged essentially.

I ran through again making sure that I got it right that they essentially read complaints, and without going to the units, even if they cannot just waltz into one, but without even coming out to the building and checking around, that they just slapped it on us in particular.

I sent them a pdf of a document I wrote trailing my interactions, emails, and conversations with them today to inform them that I took note of everything.

If I had to take this to court over my stay here, and/or potential fines associated with this strike - would I have a reasonable defense against the unverified claims?

Now, I moved in during the middle of august, I'm a black male with dreadlocks. I do not smoke. I also wouldn't want to assume the selection of striking my unit was due to profiling. But I do find it weird that without warning or any looking into it, that it was us that was just slapped with said strike.

(this is my first post here - I've looked at other questions and checked around first, but if I've still didn't provide something needed, or incorrectly formatted something, apologies - please point out - and I'll try to rectify. Thank you)

  • Hey ZenOokami, thanks for your question. Unfortunately, whether the strike can be disputed or what rules govern the issuance of strikes is heavily dependent on the specific wording of your rental agreement, and getting that granular would be straying too far from the core topic of Law.SE, which is to give reference answers to general questions in a way that doesn't constitute legal advice. – L235 Sep 4 at 1:10
  • @L235 I think an answer could talk about what legal protections exist in Georgia regarding evictions due to violations, rental contracts tend to be heavily regulated. – IllusiveBrian Sep 4 at 1:54
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    Google for free legal help for tenants in GA: georgialegalaid.org/resource/tenants-rights – BlueDogRanch Sep 4 at 3:28
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It is not at all clear that a "three strikes" policy is legal, but this would have to be resolved in court. The first question would be what the source of the supposed policy is. There is actually a law with a similar effect in Washington, that "If the landlord serves a tenant three fifteen-day notices within a twelve-month period to comply or vacate for failure to comply with the material terms of the rental agreement or an enforceable park rule". This is for mobile home parks where tenants enjoy a kind of tenure, so it isn't applicable to your situation. There is no special provision in Georgia's landlord tenant law that allows eviction after three "warnings". Eviction is possible for violating the lease, typically the requirement to pay rent, but also including the requirement to not engage in criminal conduct.

To evict you, the landlord would have to go through a court process to prove that you broke the lease. Supposing that the allegation were that you were selling drugs from your apartment, and that such conduct violates the lease, it isn't necessary that you be arrested and criminally convicted, it is simply necessary that the landlord provide enough evidence in court showing that you probably broke the law in that way. The same would go for smoking marijuana. The point is, the landlord has to prove in court that you violated the lease in some way.

However, the police might evict you if your municipality has a chronic nuisance ordinance, and such an ordinance can create an obligation on the landlord to throw you out. If that is the situation, you should probably contact the local ACLU, because they have experience in dealing with the legality of such ordinances. For instance, Norristown had an ordinance allowing the town to to revoke or suspend a landlord’s rental license, and also to forcibly remove a tenant for three instances of "disorderly behavior". This ordinance was the subject of the case Briggs v. Norristown. Even in that case, the ordinance stipulates that the Chief of Police has sole discretion to determine what constitutes disorderly behavior, and it requires that there was a police response (not simply an allegation by landlord that a tenant was noisy). The case was settled, the town repealed the ordinance, and they paid the defendant a half a million dollars, which is an indication that such an ordinance was unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny, though the shocking nature of the alleged "disturbance" surely contributed to the outcome (calling police three times to report incidents of domestic violence – deemed to be a "nuisance"). This article looks at such ordinances from a broader perspective, noting that since landlords often have to have business licenses to operate an apartment complex and municipalities have broad discretion to impose obligations on the businesses that they license, a government mandate could underlie a landlord's actions – it would not make it legal, but it does mean that a tenant might have to sue the landlord and city hall to protect their rights.

If the fine is not clearly delimited in the lease, landlord does not have a legal leg to stand on. Let's assume that there's a specific mention of marijuana smoking, that in the lease it is agreed that the fine constitutes "liquidated damages", and that landlord has sole discretion to determine if there is a violation, they maybe they could fine you. You could also contest the legality of these lease provisions in court.

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