The Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Act) regulates all Tennessee residential lease agreements in counties of more than 75,000 persons. Otherwise, the terms of the rental agreement and contract law will control although a court will look to the Act to interpret or to gauge the reasonableness or validity of any disputed or allegedly unreasonable or illegal provisions.
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A rental agreement need only be in writing if the lease term is at least 3 years, though a written lease agreement is always preferable so that the parties are aware of their obligations, procedures and notice requirements.
A landlord must always abide by state and federal laws regarding renting to prospective tenants and in how current tenants are treated. No landlord may refuse to rent to someone nor discriminate against a current tenant on the basis of sex, color, religion, national origin, familial status or disability. There are special laws that apply to persons with disabilities and to those who are blind.
A Tennessee landlord must provide a residence that is fit and habitable and complies with all housing and building codes. This includes providing essential services such as heat, hot water, electricity and sanitary or plumbing systems. A tenant is also obligated to keep the unit sanitary, to not damage or make alterations to the premises without consent and to return it in substantially the same condition as when first leased. A tenant must also refrain from interfering with the rights of other tenants in the quiet enjoyment of their own leased units or residences.
Provisions of the Lease
The terms of the lease are binding on all parties unless a term conflicts with state or federal laws or public policy. Your Tennessee residential lease agreement should contain some basic provisions, required disclosures and optional terms for the benefit of both parties.
Terms to include in your lease agreement are as follows:
- Name of landlord or agent who is authorized to manage the property and collect the rent, and the address where rent is to be paid as well as where notices and other legal documents may be served
- Names of the tenants and other occupants who will be living in the unit
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Amount of rent, due date, and 5-day grace period before a late fee may be imposed
- Late fees—not to exceed 10% of the amount of rent due
- Returned check fees—$30
- Security deposit—no limits but must be deposited in a separate account; no interest required, return within 30 days of tenant vacating unit
- Separate move-out checklist of the premises’ condition including list of current damages to be given to tenant with notice to tenant of right to mutual inspection
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance including maintaining common areas
- Obligations of tenant
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance
- Pet clause—a deposit may be nonrefundable and in any amount. No deposit is permitted for service animals
- Subletting clause
- Allowing entry within 30 days of termination of lease to show prospective tenants after giving 24-hours’ notice
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers— no statute but must be reasonable notice and not constitute harassment
- Notice of extended absence—tenant required to notify landlord of any absence of 7 days or more or be held responsible for any damages that occur
- 10-Day notice of car towing—landlord may tow a tenant’s car that has one or more flat or missing tires, is inoperable, has broken or missing windows or windshield, is missing fenders or is not properly licensed or registered
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations
- Notice for increasing rent—No statute but consider a 30-day notice for monthly lease
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
A landlord may not include certain terms in a lease that conflicts with state or federal laws or that alters the landlord’s obligations, forces a tenant to waive certain rights or allows the landlord entry into the leased premises at any time without notice.
Some of these prohibited terms include:
- Waiver of right to sue landlord for neglecting duties or obligations
- Waiver of right to collect damages including attorneys’ fees
- Changing the landlord and tenant’s obligations that conflicts with state law
- Taking a lien or security interest on the tenant’s personal property
- Allowing entry at any time without notice or prior arrangements
- Prohibiting a tenant to join a tenants’ union
- Allowing eviction without notice or without court order
- Waiver or altering of any section of the law regarding security deposits
A security deposit is required to be kept in a separate account at a bank or other financial institution. You are obligated to advise the tenant of the location of the security deposit. It is not required but advisable that you provide your tenant upon move-in with a checklist of the current damages, if any, in the unit and its condition and allow the tenant to review and sign the list. You are, however, required to provide a move-out checklist. When the tenant gives you notice to vacate or within 5 days after notice is received, you should advise the tenant of the right to be present for an inspection on the day the tenant moves out or within 4 days thereafter.
If there is a mutual inspection, both parties need to sign the statement or checklist with a list of the damages and the costs or state in writing what damages are in dispute. If there is no resolution, the tenant may bring a court action to collect the disputed amount. A landlord must find the damages and notify the tenant that all or a portion will be deducted along with a list of the damages and expenses within 30 days or return the entire amount. A landlord’s failure to do so or to hold the security deposit in a separate bank account requires the landlord to return the full deposit.
The security deposit is generally used to pay for damages caused by the tenant or guests that are not the result of ordinary wear and tear or deterioration. It may also be used for rent arrearages or for unpaid utilities for which the tenant was responsible.
Entry by Landlord
You may not enter a leased premises without notice even if to make repairs or to investigate. Though there is no statutory notice requirement, your sudden entry without notice could be construed as harassment. You can make emergency entries if there is a fire, flood or essential services or utilities have been shut off or not working that demands immediate attention, or if the tenant has abandoned the premises. Your tenant may not unreasonably deny you entrance if you have given notice and a reason for your appearance.
If it is in the lease, you may enter the unit after giving 24-hours’ notice at any time within 30-days of the lease’s expiration to show prospective tenants.
Termination of the Lease
A fixed term lease simply expires at the end of the lease term. There are situations where a tenant either elects to move out before the lease expires, does not pay rent, violates some term of the lease or wishes to terminate a monthly lease upon 30-days’ notice.
14-Day Notice to Vacate
If the tenant does not pay rent by the end of the grace period, you may serve the tenant with a 10-Day Notice within which time the tenant can remedy the nonpayment. The tenant, however, has 30-days to vacate if the rent is not paid.
30-Day Notice and 7-Day Notice to Vacate
If the tenant violates some other term of the lease, the landlord has to give a 30-Day Notice to Vacate. This allows the tenant 30-days to remedy the breach. This might involve subletting in violation of the lease or having an unauthorized tenant or pet residing in the unit. If, however, the same or very similar breach occurred within the past 6 months, the landlord need not allow the tenant to cure the breach and may require the tenant to vacate after giving a 7-day notice.
The landlord is required to mitigate damages if a tenant is evicted or leaves early by making a reasonable effort to find a replacement tenant.
3-Day Notice to Vacate
Should the tenant or guest of the tenant commit a violent act or engage in conduct that threatens the safety, health or security of others on the premises or creates a hazardous condition, then the landlord need only serve a 3-day notice to terminate the lease.
For prostitution or substance abuse violations, the landlord can move to immediately terminate the lease and begin eviction proceedings
Service members’ Civil Relief Act
Service members may terminate a lease if they entered the lease before going on active duty status or if they receive a permanent change of station (PCS) order, or receive an order for a deployment that is more than 90-days. The tenant needs to submit a 30-day notice, unless the orders require the service member to leave earlier, along with a copy of the orders.
Unlike a number of other states, Tennessee has no law allowing tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease before its expiration with no further obligations or penalties.
If the unit or premises requires repairs or attention to conditions that are material to the health, safety or welfare of the tenant who gives notice to you, then you must take steps to remedy the condition within a reasonable time. A reasonable time depends on the urgency of the matter. If it is urgent, the tenant can serve a 14-Day Notice to the landlord to terminate the lease unless the condition is fixed within that time.
If the landlord does not provide a habitable residence, then the tenant may withhold rent but only if the tenant first requests remedial action and notifies county officials. All rent is then paid to the county until the matter is resolved or the tenant is allowed to terminate the tenancy. This also applies to the landlord’s inaction in providing essential services such as heat, hot water or electricity.
A tenant is also allowed to withhold rent and deduct it for making repairs personally or hiring someone to do them if after a request, the landlord fails to perform the repairs.
Tennessee residential lease agreements require you to have a working knowledge of the laws and ordinances that affect you and your tenants. Use this guide and discuss any questions or concerns with a landlord/tenant attorney regarding your lease and obligations.