Leases in Tennessee can either be verbal or written. Whenever there is a valid lease, Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. Title 66, Ch. 28) grants the tenant special rights as such. These rights include the right to know the specific details of where and how the security deposit is being kept and the right to a fit and habitable unit.
The landlord is also granted particular rights concerning the tenancy such as the rights to enter the unit to make repairs and the prompt payment of rent. These rights are granted by law the moment there exists a valid lease between the parties. This means there is no need for them to be included in the lease itself.
Counties and municipalities often give the two parties certain rights as well so it’s always worth checking those out.
Warranty of Habitability in Tennessee
Landlord Responsibilities. When it comes to landlord responsibilities, Tennessee is unique because it doesn’t outright ascribe certain livability requirements to its landlords within its landlord-tenant laws proper. Instead, this state’s implied warranty of habitability is outlined in a set of minimum standards put forth by the state’s Bureau of Health Administration.
In practice, these standards dictate what a livable dwelling looks and operates like, especially during human habitation. This includes a detailed summation of what kind of amenities must be provided to all rental housing tenants in order for their dwelling to be considered regulatorily habitable. These essential amenities include the following:
- A reasonable supply of pressurized hot and cold water to both a kitchen and bathroom sink
- Proper sewer system access for all water-based amenities
- A stove
- A refrigerator
- A tub or shower
- A toilet (located in a room with reasonable privacy)
- Adequate ventilation via doors and windows
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures in all rooms
- In-unit heating that can heat a space to 68°F
- Foundations, roofs, exterior walls, doors, windows, stairs, and railings that are structurally sound as well as weathertight, watertight, and “dampfree”
- Proper fitting screens on all windows
- Vermin abatement services
- Two garbage cans pe unit
If any of these listed amenities breaks down or loses their operational efficiency, a Tennessee tenant has the right to request a repair. Once this kind of request is filed, that Tennessee landlord must act upon the request in a timely manner such that the tenant’s ability to safely and securely enjoy their dwelling is not severely impacted. If adequate repairs are not provided, though, a Tennessee tenant may have the right to terminate their lease after repeated requests to have their unit’s basic habitability reestablished.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tennessee tenants are responsible for performing many minor repairs and maintenance tasks to their unit that would “materially affect health and safety” if they were forgone. While the relevant statutes do not outline what kind of tasks this standard relies upon, it does indicate that Tennessee landlords are primarily responsible for enforcing this cleanliness standard.
To that end, a Tennessee landlord must issue a written notice to their tenant when they observe a violation of the state’s cleanliness standard. That notice must include terms through which the tenant may reasonably remedy the violation. That Tennessee tenant then has 14 days to meet the notice’s demands or face an imposition of fines when unilateral repairs are instituted by their landlord.
Also, under Tennessee law, tenants are empowered to address an uninhabitable living condition by taking one or more forms of alternative action against their landlord. Specifically, a Tennessee tenant may choose to repair an unaddressed issue on their own and deduct the associated cost from their next rent payment. Alternatively, after filing a report with a local building inspector and providing written notice to their landlord, a Tennessee tenant may deposit rent payments with their county clerk as a form of rent withholding.
Evictions in Tennessee
These are the three most common reasons why a Tennessee landlord may reasonably justify the eviction of one or more of their tenants:
- Nonpayment of rent – Tennessee state law establishes a standardized 5-day grace period at the beginning of each month during which a tenant cannot be charged with a late rent payment. However, once this grace period ends, a Tennessee landlord is fully able to demand immediate rent payment in full via a 14-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. At that point, the Tennessee tenant is obliged to pay in full or face further fees, not to mention the threat of eviction if their landlord files a Summons and Complaint suit.
- Violation of lease terms – If a Tennessee tenant violates a lease term relating to the proper use of their unit (such that damage in excess of regular wear and tear has occurred), their landlord must issue them a written 14-Day Notice to Cure that describes how the violation can be remedied. Similarly, other types of lease violations in counties with 75,000 or more residents require a landlord to issue a 14-Day Notice to Cure. Meanwhile, landlords in counties with fewer than 75,000 residents are required to issue a 30-Day Notice to Cure. In all cases, a Tennessee tenant must abide by the terms of the issued notice or face eviction when the appropriate notice period concludes.
- Illegal Acts – Tennessee’s laws generally provide landlords with the ability to unilaterally terminate a lease agreement if their tenant is found to be engaging in illegal activity. In those cases, a landlord must issue a 3-Day Notice to Quit that need not include provisions for curing the non-compliant behavior. Also, when it comes to acts of illegal drug possession and prostitution, a Tennessee landlord may be justified in immediately terminating their tenant’s lease without providing any advance notice.
Evictions without a lease. Tennessee landlords are required to provide written indication of their intentions when they intend to discontinue a tenant’s rental agreement. This includes so-called “at-will” tenants who are not signed onto a lease agreement but rent from that landlord, nonetheless. These tenants are entitled to receive a written 30-Day Notice to Quit before they are expected to move out. Otherwise, they may have justification to delay their voluntary eviction until the proper notice period has fully elapsed. Beyond that, however, non-leased tenants are subject to the same eviction process as a leased Tennessee tenant.
Illegal Evictions. Tennessee landlords are forbidden from taking certain retaliatory actions against their tenant when they report a known health or safety code violation to the appropriate regulatory authorities. This includes evictions, which cannot be filed in direct response to this kind of rightful reporting.
Similarly, a Tennessee landlord may not seek to evict a tenant for discriminatory reasons. As such, a Tennessee tenant is allowed to file a complaint and seek an injunction for an eviction that has been implicitly or explicitly filed based upon one or more protected class traits.
Security Deposits in Tennessee
When it comes to security deposits, a Tennessee landlord is required to follow these state-mandated guidelines for the collection, maintenance, and redistribution of these critical funds:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Currently, Tennessee state law neither establishes a standard limit nor a maximum amount for security deposits charged within the terms of a residential lease agreement. As such, Tennessee landlords are fully entitled to set their security deposit rates as high as they want, including at levels that are not relative to their average rent rates.
- Interest and Maintenance – Tennessee landlords must place all of their collected security deposit funds into an account that is solely used for that purpose and is regulated by either the state or federal government. This state’s laws do not require these maintained deposits to incur any kind of interest, however. As such, any interest that may accrue while a tenant’s deposit is in their landlord’s possession is that landlord’s rightful possession in full.
- Time Limit for Return – Within 60 days of a lease’s termination, a Tennessee landlord must mail their former tenant any remaining security deposit funds belonging to them as well as an itemized deduction list. Both items must be present in the same mailing, which must be sent to the last known address indicated in that tenant’s file.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Tennessee landlord fails to abide by any of the state’s rules for maintaining and redistributing security deposits, they may become liable to pay damages to their current or former tenant. The state does not provide precise provisions or assign precise dollar amounts to this kind of liability, however.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in Tennessee are mostly able to make security deposit deductions for reasons outlined in their applicable lease agreement. As such, it is normal and expected that a Tennessee landlord would make deductions to cover late rent payments as well as to cover the cost of damages that exceed regular wear and tear.
Lease Termination in Tennessee
Notice Requirements. If a Tennessee tenant is signed onto a lease agreement with the following periodic payment terms, they must provide the associated amount of notice before their lease termination request must be honored:
- Week-to-Week lease – 10 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
However, when a Tennessee landlord is actively engaged in a lease agreement with a fixed end date, they are not obliged to provide any termination notice due to the established nature of their lease’s conclusion.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Early termination clauses have become the most easy and popular method for tenants across the US to break off their lease early in a mutually beneficial manner. However, Tennessee state law does not require landlords to implement them into their lease agreements. As such, a Tennessee tenant may be required to call upon one of these alternative justifications for breaking their lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Tennessee landlords are perpetually required to abide by all relevant health and safety codes, including those imposed by the state and their local government. This includes providing and repairing all amenities that are considered “essential” for basic habitability. If a Tennessee landlord fails to do this (by delaying or forgoing necessary repairs, for example), their units may be judged “unlivable” by a local code enforcement authority. In that case, all affected tenants have the right to terminate their lease due to the risk it poses to their ongoing health and safety.
- Landlord Harassment – Tennessee state law does not establish an entry policy that all landlords across the state must abide by. Even so, it still requires all landlords to abide by entry policies written into the terms of their applicable lease agreements. If a Tennessee landlord intentionally or routinely violates these kinds of stated policies, then the affected tenants may request an immediate lease termination on the grounds of continued landlord harassment.
Tennessee state law dictates that landlords must make a reasonable effort to re-rent a unit after a tenant terminates their lease prematurely. To that end, a Tennessee landlord must take this line of action without charging their former tenant the remaining value of the lease whenever possible. As such, it is uncommon for Tennessee landlords to institute “buy out” provisions in their lease termination clauses.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Tennessee
Rent control & increases. Tennessee currently maintains a statute that prohibits local governments from enacting policies or ordinances that have the “effect of controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential or commercial property.” As a result of this rent control ban, landlords operating in this state retain full control over their ability to set their own rent rates. Tennessee landlords are not even required to give notice in advance of a rent increase, thus giving them wide-ranging power to manipulate tenants’ rent rates at will.
Rent related fees. Tennessee landlords are allowed to charge a number of fees to their tenants in order to facilitate a productive leasing relationship. This includes late rent payment fees, which can be charged to a tenant as soon the state-mandated five-day rent payment grace period ends. At that point, a Tennessee landlord may charge a fee worth no more than 10% of the missing rent’s value.
Other legally-justified fees are set at a fixed rate by Tennessee state law. This includes returned check fees, which can only be valued at $30 per instance that a tenant’s check bounces.
Housing Discrimination in Tennessee
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. According to the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Tennessee’s fair housing laws do not cover any protected classes beyond those set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, enforcement of fair housing regulations in Tennessee are considerably basic and follow in line with federal enforcement guidelines on almost all fronts.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Tennessee Human Rights Commission serves as the state’s enforcement and administration body when it comes to civil rights, including fair housing laws. As a result, this Commission has the authority to dictate which business practices may be considered discriminatory if they are utilized by a landlord to target one or more protected classes of tenants. Several examples of this kind of behavior include:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Refusing to provide or providing differing financial services among equally qualified tenants
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission allows tenants who believe that they have faced discrimination to file complaints digitally, as well as through traditional paper filing. After a complaint has been filed, it is entered for investigation, which may take more or less time depending on the severity of the accusation and the accused landlord’s cooperation efforts. If successful, these investigations may provide a tenant with a “reasonable cause” finding that can then be used to seek damages. The Commission does not administer direct penalties, in turn.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Tennessee
Tennessee landlords and tenants alike should take note of these next few laws and regulations, even though they don’t fit under any of the previous categories:
Landlord Entry. When it comes to most regular causes for entry (such as to perform a necessary repair), Tennessee landlords are not required to give any amount of advance notice (unless an entry policy is outlined in the applicable lease agreement). One notable exception comes within the final 30 days of a lease agreement, when a landlord must provide 24 hours of advance notice when they intend to show the unit to a prospective tenant.
Even in the absence of an established entry policy, Tennessee state law still allows landlords to enter an occupied unit in an emergency. However, this entry privilege cannot be abused to harass a tenant or invade their privacy in any way.
Small Claims Court. Tennessee’s small claims court is well-situated to accept cases arising from disputed claims between landlords and tenants within the state. In fact, this judicial venue can accept cases valued at up to $25,000 in many cases. Eviction cases are also accepted in this state’s small claims court and are not subject to the aforementioned value limit.
All cases submitted to Tennessee’s small claims court must abide by its several statutes of limitations, though, which are currently set at 6 years for rent-related claims and 3 years for other types of disputes (such as those involving property damage).
Mandatory Disclosures. When it comes to mandatory information, Tennessee landlords are only required to make two disclosures. The first disclosure must be made to all tenants, regardless of their dwelling location. This disclosure must include the names (as well as the addresses) for all applicable property owners and any agents certified to act as managers on their behalf. Meanwhile, only tenants residing in buildings built before 1978 are required to receive information about the hazards of lead-based paint.
Changing the Locks. Tennessee state law makes clear that landlords operating in the state are forbidden from performing lockouts for most any reason. As such, it is assumed that landlords are generally prohibited from unilaterally changing their tenant’s locks. However, due to a lack of statutory limitations on the matter, a Tennessee tenant may be able to change their own locks (with or without their landlord’s permission).
Local Laws in Tennessee
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Nashville Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Nashville’s Property Standards Division is responsible for enforcing the city’s enhanced zoning and building standards codes. This includes specialized statutes relating to “visual clutter” as well as the possession of inoperable vehicles on a resident’s premises. While many of these ordinances are applied in practice in this guide, more information can be found on the city’s website.