Tennessee Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Tennessee Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Last Updated: January 13, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions
  • Unpaid rent, utilities, and late fees
  • Costs of damage
  • Damages due to breach of lease
Return Deadline No statute
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return No statute

For laws on security deposit collections and holdings in Tennessee, click here.

Security Deposit Deductions in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the following things can be deducted from security deposits:

  • Unpaid rent, utilities, and late fees
  • Damages as a result of a breach of the lease
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear

Most states, such as Tennessee, do not have a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for damages except that the charges must be reasonable.

If the cost of the damages exceeds the amount of the security deposit, landlords are entitled to seek additional damages from the former tenant.

What is Considered Normal Wear & Tear vs Damage in Tennessee?

Normal wear and tear is damage that is expected when a rental unit is used in a normal way, such as gently worn carpets and faded walls. Damage is the destruction caused by abusive or negligent use of a rental unit, like ripped carpets and heavily stained walls.

“Normal wear and tear” is deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used.

Examples include:

  • Gently worn carpets
  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded paint and flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

“Damage” means destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the course of the tenancy.

Examples include:

  • Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
  • Broken tiles or windows
  • Holes in the wall
  • Missing fixtures

Can the Landlord Charge for Replacing the Carpet in Tennessee?

Yes, landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear.

Some wear and tear on a rental unit’s carpet is expected after normal day-to-day use of the property. For example, carpets typically become discolored, indented, or gently worn, when used in a normal way. However, non-typical, abusive use of carpet results in rips, visible stains, or burns. Landlords have the right to charge the tenant for the replacement of the carpet in areas where serious damage has occurred.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Tennessee?

Yes, landlords can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit.

Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures. However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.

Can the Landlord Charge a Cleaning Fee in Tennessee?

Landlords can make deductions from the security deposit for cleaning, but only if the tenant causes damage that requires cleaning (e.g. wine stains on the carpet).

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Tennessee?

Yes, in Tennessee, landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear. For example, if the tenant:

  • Causes damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Repaints the wall but is not permitted to do so under the lease agreement
  • Repaints the wall in an unprofessional way

Normal wear includes minor scrapes from daily use, fading due to sunlight, or minor cracks in the original paint. Landlords can charge for repainting if the damage is not the result of normal use. This includes stains, large or deep scratches, and water damage.

Can a Security Deposit Be Used for Last Month’s Rent in Tennessee?

Tennessee law does not forbid the security deposit from being used for any outstanding rent.

Landlords can include a provision in the lease agreement that the security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent until the tenant vacates the rental unit.

Security Deposit Returns in Tennessee

When returning security deposits in Tennessee, landlords must give tenants written notice of their right to attend the final inspection scheduled during normal business hours. The notice must be sent no later than 5 days after the tenant’s intent to vacate (or the same day the landlord sends a request to vacate).

note

Counties with populations smaller than 75,000 (as of the 2010 US Census) are exempt from the security deposit rules, including the final inspection requirement.

The inspection must occur within 4 days after the tenant vacates the rental unit. If the tenant is present at the inspection, the landlord and tenant must create a comprehensive list of damage (if any) to the rental unit. The tenant must either sign the list (thereby waiving their right to dispute) or indicate which items they disagree with.

After the inspection, landlords may makeadditional deductions for damages discovered within 30 days after the tenant moved out or 7 days after the next tenant moves in, whichever is earlier, but not later.

The tenant waives their right to attend the final inspection if they:

  • Vacate or abandon the rental unit without giving written notice
  • Fail to contact the landlord regarding their right to an inspection
  • Fail to attend the inspection at the scheduled time
  • Are evicted

How Long Do Landlords Have to Return Security Deposits in Tennessee?

Unlike in most states, Tennessee does not have a specific deadline for the return of a security deposit. Landlords must return the security deposit to the tenant within a reasonable length of time with a written notice stating how much they withheld (if any).

If the landlord makes deductions, they must leave the withheld portion of the security deposit in its holding account for 60 days. If the tenant does not respond after 60 days, the landlord can withdraw and keep the unclaimed portion of the security deposit.

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Tennessee?

Tennessee law does not require landlords to provide interest on held security deposits.

How Do Landlords Give Notice / What Information Do They Have to Provide in Tennessee?

Landlords must send written notice to the tenant’s last known (or reasonably determined) address including the amount of the security deposit due to the tenant.

If the tenant does not attend the final inspection, the landlord must send a comprehensive list of damages with estimated costs to repair to the tenant’s last known address, upon written request by the tenant.

Security Deposit Disputes in Tennessee

If landlords do not return the security deposit or fail to provide tenants the opportunity to attend the final inspection, tenants can file for damages in court.

Unlike most other states, Tennessee law does not provide an additional penalty for violation of the security deposit rules. However, in some cases, tenants can recover punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and/or court costs.

Tenants can also take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Disagreement with the itemized deductions
  • Failure to hold the security deposit in a financial account
  • Unreasonable deductions

How Can Tenants File a Dispute for a Security Deposit in Tennessee?

If a landlord fails to perform their obligations regarding a security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in the small claims division of General Sessions Court if the amount claimed is less than $25,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file a civil case in the Circuit Court.

A small claims case regarding the return of a security deposit must be filed within 6 years.

Cases are filed in the General Sessions Court where the property is located or where the defendant lives. An attorney is not required but permitted.Filing fees vary by court.

Our website provides more information about the process of filing a dispute in Small Claims Court.

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