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.
Tennessee Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Tennessee, there is no limit or maximum rental application fee a landlord can charge a prospective tenant. It’s advised to not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense, but ultimately the determination of the fee is at the sole discretion of the landlord.
If an applicant is approved, landlords may charge a security deposit. According to Tennessee state law, there is no limit on the amount that landlords can charge as security deposit. However, there is an exception to the security deposit law, the Landlord Tenant Act does not apply to counties that have a population less than 75,000 according to the Federal Census. It is best to check local county or city ordinances which may put a limit on security deposit amounts.
Additionally, a security deposit receipt is not required; however, landlords are required to place security deposits a separate bank account solely for the use of security deposits and must inform the tenant of where and how the security deposit will be held.
What Tennessee Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal laws are in effect in Tennessee to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process. 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)
Additionally, Tennessee state law adds an additional protection for the following class:
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 illegal.
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Tennessee, the following exemptions are allowed:
- 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
- Age– 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.
- Owner Occupied Properties –if the owner lives in a housing accommodation for two families or less or the owner rents a room in a single-family housing accommodation and occupies the unit then they are exempt from abiding by FHA laws under the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. However, race can never be a deciding factor (per the Civil Rights Act of 1866) and there cannot be any discriminatory advertisements to discourage applicants of a certain group.
- 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
Consent for Background 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 (such as this one).
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.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e., credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.