The Tennessee rental application form is a document used by landlords and listing agents to collect information from potential tenants, which is then used to determine whether they will rent the property to the applicant. Financial information, eviction history, and criminal record are just a few pieces of information asked on an application.
- Application Fee – Tennessee landlords may charge any fee they wish as part of the application process.
- Discrimination Laws – Tennessee has both state and federal laws against discrimination in the application and rental processes. Race, religion, creed, disability, and familial status are just a few protections, with some exemption in place..
- Consent for Credit Check – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a prospective tenant to give written consent to check their credit history during the screening process.
Tennessee Rental Application Laws
The following laws apply to the application and tenant screening process in the state of Tennessee.
Collecting an Application Fee in Tennessee
Application fees are not controlled in Tennessee, so listing agents and landlords can impose any fee they wish.
Illegal Housing Discrimination in Tennessee
Federal laws are in effect in Tennessee to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process.
Fair Housing Act
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is not allowed.
Tennessee Fair Housing Laws
Additionally, Tennessee state law adds additional protections for the following class:
Asking about creed on a rental application form (and/or using it to base an application decision on) is not allowed.
Exemptions to Fair Housing Laws
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Tennessee, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Age/Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any of the below cases:
- Two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Owner-occupied single-family dwelling
- Housing for Older Persons Exemption – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities such as senior housing. This federal exemption, known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, can apply to 55+ or even 62+ communities that meet the requirements.
- Mrs. Murphy Exemption – dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws, unless a real estate agent represents the landlord. Additionally, race cannot be a deciding factor as per the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Federally, race is a non-exemption criteria that cannot have an influence on the choice of whether to rent to an applicant or not regardless of existing exemptions.
Consent for Credit Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (example template).
Tennessee Security Deposit Law
If an applicant is approved, the following laws apply to the collection of security deposits in Tennessee:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount: Tennessee does not impose limits for security deposits charged to potential tenants.
- Receipt Requirements: There is no requirement to provide a receipt for the security deposit.
- Financial Holdings: Tennessee landlords are not allowed to commingle security deposits with personal funds and must place security deposits in an account solely for security deposits in a bank or lending institution that is regulated on the state or federal level.
Sending Rental Application Forms
Landlords can send rental application forms to tenants in one of two ways:
- Manually – using the PDF and Word templates available for free on our website (see the top right of this webpage), landlords can send a rental application form to tenants via a physical copy or email.
- With Software – most popular property management software services include an online rental application form that can automate the collection and screening process for landlords.
For reviews of popular property management software, click here.
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Tennessee Eviction Record Search
Tennessee’s eviction court records are public and easily accessed online, allowing landlords and agents to complete the screening process on their own for free instead of paying for a screening service.
To access the eviction records:
- Create an account with the Tennessee Appellate Case Search.
- Select ‘Party Name’ in the search options.
- Enter the applicant’s name, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to view the details of the docket. Documents available for download and viewing will be linked in PDF format.
Responding to Rental Applications
If an applicant meets all of your tenant screening criteria, then there’s nothing you need to do beyond notifying them and moving forward with the normal leasing process.
However, if you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and you make an “adverse action” against them (EVEN IF the report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for doing so), you are required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”.
An adverse action is defined as either rejecting the applicant or instituting additional/higher requirements than you have for another applicant (i.e. requiring a co-signer, larger security deposit, higher rent or an additional deposit).
In these cases, an adverse action notice is required to be sent to the applicant, and must include the following:
- The agency’s name, address and phone number that supplied the report.
- A statement explaining that the CRA didn’t make the decision for the adverse action themselves, and as a result, that they can’t explain why the decision was made.
- A statement explaining the applicant’s right to dispute such information and their right to a copy of the report in question within 60 days.
To learn more about requirements surrounding adverse action notices, see this article from the Federal Trade Commission. To get an idea of what an adverse action notice might look like, see this example letter.
Additionally, to protect against accusations of illegal discrimination, it is always recommended to include the exact reason why the application was not approved in the rejection letter.