So here's my situation. I have signed a pretty standard rent contract saying that I would rent an apartment in Atlanta for 12 months (August 2019 to July 2020). Because of COVID, I have vacated the apartment and will not be returning. So, the apartment is empty and noone will be living in it, yet I still have to pay $XXXX/month for the next four months. Does anyone know a way around this? What is the worst thing that could happen if I just don't pay my rent?
Financially, the landlord can take you to court and get a judgment against you where you have to pay that rent, so you won't save any money. If you hire an attorney to defend you in the lawsuit, that will cost you extra money, so you could be worse off than just paying rent and staying there. The lease might have late payment fees, and if you that would be additional money that you would owe. In addition, there could be some reputational damage to you that could affect your ability to secure a lease in the future (a black mark on your credit history). Also note that in Georgia, a landlord has no obligation to seek an alternative tenant, so he can let the unit sit empty for 4 months (though he cannot collect twice on the same unite).
So, the apartment is empty and noone will be living in it, yet I still have to pay $XXXX/month for the next four months.
Not necessarily. There's a second option.
You leave the unit broom-clean and fit for showing. Why? Because you need the landlord's voluntary help here, and you need to do everything you possibly can to help the landlord say "yes". Obviously if you left the unit in an unfit state, then the landlord has no earthly reason to help you, outside of fear that you won't pay the owed rent.
Now, you ask the landlord to offer the unit and re-let it before the lease is up. (Once, I did my own advertising and found a tenant acceptable to the landlord. Worked slick as a whistle). Anyway, the landlord puts the unit back on the market. With any luck, a new tenant is found, the landlord accepts your surrender of the property, and you're off the hook. In most states, this "duty to mitigate" on the landlord's part is the law.
Now, what can the landlord do about it? Depends how serious the landlord wants to be. First, the landlord can report you to a credit reporting agency, and take a big bite out of your credit rating, especially where landlords are concerned: no one will want to rent to you for 7 years. So congrats, future homeowner!
The landlord can also dun you indefinitely. The landlord can either hire a collection agency to dun you, or outright sell your debt to a collector. At that point, you'll get collector robo-calls and mails relentlessly and constantly. After some years the debt will be time-barred (statute of limitations expired), but the collectors will keep calling - especially if they have data showing that you're doing alright. They figure you don't know it's time-barred. You can tell them to stop, but then they'll just horse-trade the debt to another collector who you haven't told to stop. That can go on for 20 years.
Lastly, the landlord can sue you. People don't sue over trivial amounts, but since you used a 4-digit figure to describe your rent, it's surely at least $4000. The landlord knows you're out-of-state and rather unlikely to contest the matter. So going to court over $4000 is probably worth it. The court judgment resets the statute of limitations to a longer number. Now the landlord can go after your assets which are reachable in Georgia, bank accounts in banks that do business in Georgia, wages from an employer who operates in Georgia, etc.