Tennessee state law offers more protections for renters than most other states in the region. The state makes it harder to evict tenants, allows renters to withhold rent in some circumstances, and requires prompt return of security deposits.
Landlords can demand any amount they choose as a security deposit, since state law doesn't impose a cap. However, Tennessee does require landlords to return security deposits within 30 days of termination of the lease agreement, one of the more restrictive rules in the nation. The owner may withhold some or all of the security deposit to cover unpaid rent, utility bills, property damage or cleaning, or to remove any changes tenants made to the property. For example, if tenants put up shelving units, the landlord can remove them and use the security deposit to cover the cost.
Notice and Entry
Tennessee law does not specify a notice requirement for landlords who want to enter their leased properties, but the state recommends owners alert tenants at least 24 hours in advance. In addition, the state explicitly allows owners to enter a property without notice if the tenant has been absent for an extended time. If a tenant goes on vacation for three weeks, for example, the landlord may enter without notice. Landlords also are allowed entry with notice to show the property to prospective tenants within 30 days of the end of the existing lease.
No notice is required to terminate a lease with a fixed end date. For month-to-month leases, 30 days' notice is required. For weekly leases, the requirement is 10 days.
Maintenance and Repairs
Tennessee law offers tenants two remedies if landlords fail to perform important maintenance like repairing a leaky roof or a dangerous electrical problem. First, they can withhold rent until repairs are made. Alternatively, they can make the repairs themselves and then deduct the cost from their rent. However, tenants must first provide the landlord with written notice of the problem. Rules about how much advance notice tenants must give vary according to the problem and the local jurisdiction.
Eviction and Foreclosure
Tennessee law makes it comparatively difficult to evict tenants. Under state rules, landlords must give tenants written notice that they have violated the lease agreement. Then, tenants have a maximum of 14 days to rectify the situation. Even if the tenants do not remedy the situation, the law gives them an additional 16 days to vacate.
There is a major exception to this rule. If the tenants violate the lease in the same way twice within a six month period, they lose the remedy grace period and may be forced to vacate faster.
Under Tennessee and federal law, a change in ownership of a rented property due to foreclosure doesn't alter an existing lease agreement. As long as the tenant of a property under foreclosure keeps paying the rent to the landlord until he receives a notice to pay someone else, the lease stays in effect. The new owners can ask month-to-month tenants to vacate, but they have to give 90 days' notice--more than the 30 days the original owner would have needed to give.