A landmark victory for Georgia children's healthy and safety

By Michael Waller, Director of Projects

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Governor Kemp signed House Bill 346 into law, and the future of Georgia’s most vulnerable children got a little brighter. This bill protects families from slumlords who refuse to make repairs to their apartments, even when the living conditions are intolerable and dangerous. Children who live in rodent- and mold-infested apartments are more likely to become sick and miss school, and several childhood illnesses can be directly traced to unsanitary living conditions.

Among other dangers, these conditions can trigger childhood asthma. In fact, forty percent of children with asthma develop it from their home environment. Asthma endangers not only children’s health, but also their education. The disease is a leading cause of school absences. This is why educators were alongside health experts fighting to get the new law passed.

For years landlords were given license to ignore the valid complaints of their tenants, many of whom were parents desperate to improve the health and safety of their children. When tenants’ complaints grew too loud or bothersome, landlords often evicted the entire family. An eviction made it even harder for these families to find affordable housing.

Georgia’s new law enables more low-income children and tenants to live in healthy housing. How does it work? The new law prohibits slumlords from evicting tenants who complain when their rental home needs repair. Landlords who fail to make repairs cannot evict tenants for asking that landlords fulfill their duties and fix health hazards. This law provides modest but important protections to Georgia’s most vulnerable families.

Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and members of its Healthy Housing Coalition worked with education leaders, the medical community and landlords to find this common-sense solution to a widespread and pernicious problem. We are grateful to the governor, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the General Assembly, particularly Representative Sharon Cooper, for recognizing the need for this reform and their leadership. This law will make Georgia a better, safer home for everyone, especially kids.

But we can't stop here. Georgia Appleseed is already working hard to build on the success of this landmark legislation. We are collaborating with housing experts, local municipalities, judges, code enforcement, landlords and tenants to create policy recommendations so that tenants and landlords do not have to go to eviction court in order to resolve health and safety disputes. If you have questions or would like to get involved, please contact me at mwaller@gaappleseed.org.