State Rules and Regulations for Tennesse Rental Properties and Landlords
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Fair Housing Act, which is an extension of the Civil Rights Act, extended civil rights protections to the housing market. The laws made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race or color, sex or gender, religion or creed, familial status, nation of origin, or disability.
Prohibited acts include:
- Placing discriminatory language in rental applications or rental advertisements;
- Refusing to rent a unit or denying an application on the basis of a protected characteristic;
- Saying that a rental unit is already rented when it is not;
- Segregating tenants based on protected characteristics;
- Refusing to rent to an applicant based on the presence of small children;
- Charging a tenant a security deposit based on the presence of small children;
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations to a disabled person; and
- Changing the terms of the lease based on a protected characteristic.
In addition to the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act outlines further restrictions on dealings with those with disabilities. Landlords are expected to make reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities such as waiving a ‘no-pets policy’ if a blind tenant requires a seeing-eye dog. Service animals are not considered pets, by law, so landlords are not even allowed to charge security deposits based on the presence of a service animal. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are not considered service animals.
Tennessee Fair Housing Laws
Tennessee law does not extend protections to other marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community or those with a military service record. However, there have been lawsuits at the state level that have challenged whether or not LGBTQ protections are an extension of sex/gender restrictions in the federal statute and questions as to whether or not denying housing based on a military service record is contrary to the public good.
Landlords are advised to avoid the appearance of any discrimination by simply taking the first qualified applicant. This is a financial decision based on the tenant’s financial records.
Restrictions on Fair Housing Laws
Federal law allows landlords who occupy their own residences and have no more than four rental units on the property to bypass federal anti-discrimination protections.
Tennessee Landlord-Tenant Rules and Regulations
Tennessee Rules and Regulations Regarding Security Deposits
The rules and regulations regarding security deposits can be found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-301.
A landlord has 30 days from the date of move out to refund the security deposit. A landlord who wishes to withhold any portion of the security deposit is required to present the tenant with an itemized list of damages. The landlord must hold the deposit in an account that is FDIC insured. If a tenant requests to be present for the final inspection, the landlord is required to oblige this request.
Otherwise, the restrictions on landlords are sparse. There is no maximum when it comes to security deposit amounts. Landlords should not, however, charge tenants different amounts for security deposit as this could become the basis for a discrimination lawsuit.
Lease Agreements and Rent in Tennessee
When rent is due can be established by the lease. If it is not established in the lease, it is presumed that the rent is due on the first of every month or whenever the rental period begins (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-201(c)). The tenant then has five days within the first date of the rental period to get the money to the landlord excluding Sundays and holidays (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-201(d)).
If the rent is late, landlords are entitled to charge a late fee which cannot exceed 10% of the amount past due (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-201(d)). Additionally, if a tenant bounces a check to a landlord, the landlord is entitled to recover a $30 returned-check fee (Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-29-102).
Landlord Obligations in Tennessee
A full list of a landlord’s duties to their tenants can be found in (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-304). Highlights include:
- Complying with all municipal building and housing codes;
- Making repairs or whatever else is necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;
- Keeping roofs and ceilings in good repair;
- Ensuring windows and locks on doors provide adequate security;
- Keeping common areas safe and clean; and
- In multi-unit dwellings, maintaining garbage receptacles.
Fit and habitable condition generally refers to the bare necessities of a dwelling space. This includes electricity, heat, running water, functioning plumbing, ventilation, and garbage disposal. If the tenant has cause to complain about any of the aforementioned, they can file a complaint with the housing authority, withhold rent, or void the terms of the lease.
Failure to Provide Essential Services or Keep the Property in Good Repair
If a landlord fails to repair damage that makes the condition of the rental unit unsafe, the tenant is entitled to file a complaint with the housing authority or health department in their district. The landlord then has 30 days to repair the damage and pay their rent to a county clerk who will hold the rent until such time as the landlord makes the necessary repairs (Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-111-104). Similarly, tenants are allowed to repair essential services at their own cost and then deduct rent with certain restrictions (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-502).
Tenant Obligations in Tennessee
Just as the landlord has obligations to the tenant, so too does the tenant have obligations to the landlord. These can be found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-401. Highlights include:
- Tenants must abide by all building and housing codes and the terms of the lease;
- Tenants are required to keep their living space clean and dispose of all their waste in a timely manner;
- Tenants are required to return the rental unit in the same condition they found (minus normal wear and tear);
- Tenants may not engage in unlawful activity on the premises nor deliberately or negligently destroy the property; and
- Tenants are not allowed to breach the peace by interrupting other tenants from the quiet enjoyment of their own rental units.
Additionally, a landlord may create rules or regulations outside of the terms of the lease and enforce them at any time so long as reasonable notice has been given to the tenant (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-402).
Voluntary Termination of Leases
Either party is free to terminate a lease without a fixed end date provided they give notice to the other part. If the lease is month-to-month, either party must give 30 days notice (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-512(b)). If the lease is week-to-week, either party must give 10 days notice (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-512(a)).
Eviction and the Involuntary Termination of Leases in Tennessee
There are two reasons why a lease would be voided early. The first is for a violation of some term of the lease and the second is for nonpayment of rent.
In addition, a tenant may quit the lease if the landlord has not complied with a request to fix problems on the premises or the condition of the rental unit does not rise to the bar of “fit and habitable” (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-501).
If the tenant does not get his or her rent to the landlord within the first five days of the rent due date, the landlord may issue a 14-day notice to remedy or quit the lease. Additionally, the landlord may issue a 14-day notice if there has been substantial damage to the premises beyond normal wear and tear. If the problem is capable of being remedied (damage to the property or delinquent rent), then the landlord must offer the tenant the option to fix the problem before initiating an eviction (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-7-109 and § 66-28-505).
For any other default of the lease agreement, a notice of 30 days must be issued to the tenant.
If the tenant is engaged in illegal activity on the premises, (domestic violence, prostitution, drug abuse, or any other form of violence), the landlord may terminate the lease immediately but is obliged to inform a prosecutor of the illegal activity within five days of terminating the lease (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-7-107). Failure to do so can result in liability to the landlord.
Landlords may not initiate “self-help” evictions. Utility shut-offs for the purpose of eviction are never acceptable and lockouts are similarly illegal. Tenants can sue. Similarly, landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who make good-faith complaints to local housing authorities or otherwise assert their legal rights.
If a tenant fights an eviction and the landlord wins, the landlord is allowed to collect attorney’s fees and any other financial damages caused by the tenant’s refusal to vacate (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-512(c)). However, the landlord has a duty to attempt to rerent the premises to mitigate damages to the tenant (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-507).
Notices of Entry
Landlords are not required by law to give a tenant notice before entering a property. However, landlords should consider that tenants are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their home and their privacy and give tenants at least 24 hours notice prior to making non-emergency repairs. In the case of an emergency, a landlord may enter the property with no notice.
If, however, the landlord is showing the apartment to prospective tenants, they are required during the final 30 days of tenancy to give the tenants 24 hours notice (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-403(e)(5)).
A landlord can have a vehicle towed off their property provided they give the tenant 10 days notice (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-519) if the following conditions are met:
- The vehicle has one or more missing or flat tires;
- The vehicle cannot operate under its own power;
- Any of the windows are broken or missing;
- Any of the fenders or bumpers are missing; or
- The vehicle’s inspection or registration is out of compliance.
Abandonment of Premises or Property
Landlords can assume the property has been abandoned by the tenant if the tenant is absent from the property for more than 30 days or the tenant has not paid rent within 15 days of the due date (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405).
If the tenant leaves behind personal property on the premises, the landlord is obliged to store the property for 30 days at the tenant’s expense (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405). After 30 days, the landlord may sell or dispose of the tenant’s property.
Landlords are required to provide the names and addresses of anyone authorized to manage the property (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-302). Additionally, if there is lead paint present on the property, landlords are required to inform tenants prior to moving in. This information pamphlet is helpful.
Tennessee Courts and Legal Links
- Tennessee Small Claims Courts
- Tennessee Legal Aid
- Department of Commerce and Insurance
- Tennessee Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Real Estate Commission
- Tennessee Fair Housing