Title 44, Chapter 7, Section 74
(a) At or before the time of the hearing, the defendant may answer
in writing. The defendant may answer orally at the time of the
hearing. If the answer is oral, the substance thereof shall be
endorsed upon the affidavit. The answer may contain any legal or
equitable defense or counterclaim.
(b) If the tenant fails to answer, the court shall grant a distress warrant; and the plaintiff shall be entitled to a verdict and judgment by default for all rents due as if every item and paragraph of the affidavit provided for in Code Section 44-7-71 were supported by proper evidence, which verdict shall be in open court or chambers and without the intervention of a jury.
(c) If the tenant answers, a trial of the issues shall be had in accordance with the procedure prescribed for civil actions in courts of record except that if the action is tried in the magistrate court the trial shall be had in accordance with the procedures prescribed for that court. Every effort shall be made by the trial court to expedite a trial of the issues. The defendant shall be allowed to remain in possession of the premises and his property pending the final outcome of the litigation, provided that he complies with Code Section 44-7-75.