Renters Rights in Tennessee

Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/GettyImages

As a renter, you should feel comfortable in your own home. Your responsibilities include paying your rent on time and keeping your living spaces clean. However, as in most states, landlords have responsibilities as well, giving you some very specific rights under the law.

TN Renters Rights

Rights can vary from one county to the next in Tennessee, but generally speaking, your rights include having emergency repairs attended to within a reasonable time period. As outlined on the TN.gov renters’ rights section, under the Landlord Tenant Act, your landlord is responsible for keeping the property in a livable condition and maintaining all common areas. Your landlord must also provide a receptacle for disposing of garbage.

If you live in the following counties, the Landlord Tenant Act applies to you:

  • Anderson
  • Blount
  • Bradley
  • Davidson
  • Greene
  • Hamilton
  • Knox
  • Madison
  • Maury
  • Montgomery
  • Putnam
  • Rutherford
  • Sevier
  • Shelby
  • Sullivan
  • Sumner
  • Washington
  • Williamson
  • Wilson

These counties include the major metropolitan areas of Tennessee, including Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga. If you live outside these counties, you’ll need to check your own county regulations to confirm your rights. Areas with smaller populations may not have as much regulation governing their rental practices.

TN Renters' Responsibilities

As a renter, you have some responsibilities, as well. The state outlines eight principles involved in maintaining a healthy home. It should be kept dry, clean, pest-free, safe, contaminate-free, ventilated, maintained and thermally controlled. As a renter, it is your responsibility to take care of the space as well as you can on your end. However, if you have an issue like pest control and you are keeping your spaces clean, the responsibility then shifts to your landlord to resolve the issue.

It is also your responsibility as a renter to pay rent on time. Your lease agreement should clearly outline when rent is due, how much you’ll owe and how you need to remit payment. This agreement should also spell out the point at which a late fee will kick in, as well as the amount of that fee. Under state law, landlords cannot charge a late fee until rent is at least five days late, or the next business day if the five-day mark falls on a weekend or holiday.

Enter Without Permission in Tennessee

One common issue that comes up under TN renters rights is whether a landlord has the right to enter the premises at any time. A renter certainly has a right to privacy, but there are instances where your landlord can enter your rental. Those include:

  • With your consent for the purposes of repairs, ideally with sufficient notice
  • In the case of emergency, which is defined in the Tennessee Code as something that demands immediate action
  • If your utilities have been shut off through no fault of your landlord’s

The tenant cannot reasonably withhold consent for a landlord to enter the property for legitimate reasons, including to make repairs or inspect the premises. The law also emphasizes that the landlord does not have the right to harass the tenant or abuse his right of access.

Withholding Rent in Tennessee

Under the regulations outlined on TN.gov renters’ rights, it’s clear that the landlord has a responsibility to make all repairs necessary to make the premises livable. However, if your landlord falls through on that responsibility, it can be tempting to refuse to pay rent until those repairs are made. Some renters instead hire someone to make the repairs, then deduct the expense from the monthly rental payment.

Unfortunately, Tennessee’s legal system tends to favor landlords when it comes to these matters, which fall under the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act. Withholding rent, even with cause, could lead your landlord to initiate eviction proceedings and hurt your credibility if it eventually goes to court. Put all requests in writing and if your landlord refuses to make repairs, seek legal counsel if exiting your lease isn’t an option.

Rent Costs in Tennessee

In some states, rent-control laws limit what some landlords can charge. No such laws exist in Tennessee, which means property owners can charge whatever they want. It’s in the best interest of landlords to keep rent rates competitive, but when demand for property is on the rise, rent prices often increase along with it.

In Tennessee, rent is due at the start of each month, with landlords allowed to prorate the rent by the day for renters who move in or out midway through the month. If the landlord wants to increase rent prices, there is no minimum notification requirement, although that can be included in the lease agreement as a courtesy. Often landlords notify renters well in advance of the end of their lease to allow plenty of time for the renter to decide to move if the increase makes the price unaffordable.

Rent Increases in Tennessee

One of the drawbacks of renting in Tennessee is that there’s no protection against rent increases. As with TN landlord tenant laws for eviction, the law seems to work in favor of the landlord, who can increase rent at any time with only 30 days’ notice. Your rental agreement may state otherwise, though. The good news is, if you sign a long-term lease, your landlord can’t raise the rent until the end of that lease term.

In addition to protection under long-term leases, the law also guards against retaliatory rent increases. So, in other words, if you file a complaint against your landlord, she can’t increase your rent to get back at you. Rent also can’t be raised in a discriminatory manner, singling out renters on the basis of race, for instance.

Eviction Process in Tennessee

When it comes to TN landlord tenant laws, eviction can be tricky. Your landlord can evict you if you meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • You fail to pay your rent
  • You cause damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • You behave in a way that poses a danger to other tenants

However, even with due cause, the renter still has the right to contest the eviction attempt. If the tenant doesn’t leave willingly, the landlord will need to go through the court system and win the case to get an eviction. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the landlord still cannot forcibly remove the renter. A law enforcement officer will need to handle that.

Evicting Tenants at Lease End

Although Tennessee law makes it tough to evict a tenant mid-lease, it gets far easier when your lease reaches its end. Unfortunately, TN renters’ rights don’t protect you in these instances. Your landlord has every right to expect you to exit the unit at the end of the term. Before signing a lease, review the fine print to see if it automatically renews or you’ll be expected to get out.

For month-to-month renters, 30-days’ notice is required before evicting a tenant. However, if you don’t leave at the end of those 30 days, your landlord will be required to go through the courts to have you removed.

Termination for Questionable Activities

If you’re engaging in questionable activities on the property, your landlord may have an easier time evicting you. If you behave in a way that could reasonably be seen as threatening to other tenants or your landlord or you commit a violent act on the property, your landlord can immediately issue an eviction notice and ask you to be out in 14 days.

Drug activity can accelerate the process even further. If you’ve been found to commit a drug-related activity in your rental property, your landlord can issue written notice that demands you leave within three days. At that point, the landlord will also go through the courts to file an eviction lawsuit.

Required Landlord Disclosures

There are certain things your landlord must disclose by law in the lease. This is where reading your lease thoroughly before signing can come in handy. In Tennessee, those required disclosures include:

  • The presence of lead paint
  • The identity of every person who has the authorization to enter the property during the renter’s term
  • The amount of the security deposit and the rights to that security deposit at the termination of the lease

In the final 30 days of your time in your rental property, your landlord has the right to show prospective renters your rental. However, this needs to be stated in the lease agreement at the time you sign it. Your landlord is also required to give 24 hours’ notice before entering your property with prospective renters.

Security Deposits

Security deposits can go sideways fairly quickly, which is why most states have laws in place governing how they can be collected, held and returned. When reviewing TN.gov renters’ rights, it’s important to know that landlords have obligations attached to that security deposit they collect. Under Tennessee law, the money must be deposited in a designated account at a lender subject to state regulation.

Once your rental agreement comes to an end, your landlord has 10 days to inspect the property and make a list of damage that could be covered by part of the security deposit. If rent is still due, the landlord has the right to withhold part or all of the deposit to cover that. However, the landlord cannot keep any part of the deposit if it was not kept in a separate account throughout the renter’s tenancy.

Withholding the Deposit

Whether you’re exiting your rental voluntarily or under TN landlord tenant laws for eviction, your landlord is required by law to return your deposit within 30 days of the end of the lease. There are three instances where the landlord may keep part or all of the deposit:

  • Damages outside of normal wear
  • Unpaid rent
  • Applicable lease breaches

If your landlord decides to keep part or all of your deposit, he must send you a written notice with an itemized list of the damages and a dollar amount of the deposit that will be refunded to you. You have 60 days to respond to this request. The landlord is required to perform an inspection within four days of you exiting the unit and you have the right to be present. If you disagree with the assessment, you can refuse to sign the list and dispute the charges.

On-Property Vehicles

If you’re renting a property, chances are you’ll need to park a vehicle there. Your landlord should spell out all rules associated with parking but in some cases, he may have the right to tow that vehicle. In Tennessee, a property owner can have a renter’s vehicle towed if at least one of the following is true:

  • You have a flat or missing tire
  • Your vehicle doesn’t function
  • Your vehicle is missing a window, fender or bumper
  • Your vehicle is noncompliant with laws regarding licensing, titling, operation and registration for more than 30 days

References

About the Author

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a ghostwriter for a credit card processing service and has ghostwritten about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, Ecommerce Insiders, GoBankingRates, and ThriveBy30.