Tennessee Rent Control Laws in 2024

Introduction to Tennessee’s Rent Control Laws

Tennessee has some of the least restrictive landlord-tenant laws in the country when it comes to rent control and rent increases. The state prohibits any form of rent regulation, meaning there are effectively no limits on how much or how frequently landlords can raise rents. Cities and counties are also banned from implementing any local rent control ordinances. 

Tennessee's statewide prohibition on rent control sets it apart from many other states that allow some form of rent stabilization, at least in certain cities. Advocates argue this leaves tenants vulnerable to uncontrolled rent hikes, while landlord groups say rent control would stifle new housing construction. With housing costs rising rapidly in some Tennessee cities like Nashville and Memphis, there have been renewed calls to revisit rent regulations.

Under Tennessee law, landlords have broad discretion to raise rents with proper notice. The lack of rent control puts much of the balance of power in the hands of property owners when it comes to setting rates. Renters have few protections against large rent increases outside of their current lease terms. This guide will explore Tennessee's rent control laws and their implications for both landlords and tenants.

TN State Laws on Rent Control

Tennessee does not have any statewide laws implementing rent control. Landlords have broad discretion when it comes to raising rents, as there are currently no limits under state statute on how much or how frequently rents can be increased. The lack of rent control legislation in Tennessee gives property owners, investors, and landlords greater freedom compared to states like California and New York which have rent stabilization laws and rent boards limiting rent increases. 

Without statewide rent regulations, tenants have few protections against rapid rent hikes beyond what is agreed upon in their lease terms. Landlords in Tennessee can raise rents to match market rates once a lease expires, with proper advance notice. The state follows common law when it comes to landlord-tenant relations, which favors property rights. Some cities have considered passing local rent control ordinances, but so far no Tennessee municipalities have their own rent stabilization programs.

Local Rent Control 

Tennessee state law prohibits cities and counties from enacting rent control ordinances or policies that would limit how much landlords can raise rents each year. The state has banned local rent control initiatives since 1981 with the Rent Control Act. This law centralized rent control policy at the state level and removed the ability of local governments to set their own rent increase limits.

As a result, no cities or counties in Tennessee have active rent control laws. Local governments do not have the power to impose annual rent increase percentage caps, limit rent hikes on vacant units, or require landlords to have "just cause" for large rent increases. Without changes in state law, Tennessee's local governments cannot establish any form of rent stabilization measures.

Limits on Rent Increases

Tennessee law does not limit how much a landlord can raise the rent when a lease term ends or the rental is month-to-month. Landlords have full discretion to raise rents to match market rates or even beyond. There are no caps under Tennessee law on the maximum amount or percentage that rent can be increased when a lease ends or renews. The lack of rent control in Tennessee gives landlords broad power to raise rents with proper notice, regardless of how large the increase may be. Without statewide rent regulations, market conditions are the primary factor dictating rent increases. As long as landlords follow proper notice rules, they can raise rents as much as they choose when a lease ends.

Recent Efforts to Change Laws

Tennessee lawmakers have made several attempts in recent years to repeal the statewide ban on rent control, but none have succeeded. 

In 2019, two Democratic state senators introduced a bill that would give cities and counties the option to implement rent stabilization policies. The legislation would have allowed local governments to limit how much landlords could increase rents each year. Proponents argued it was needed to address rapidly rising rents in cities like Nashville and Memphis. However, the Republican-controlled state legislature did not take action on the bill.

In 2021, a new bill was proposed in the Tennessee House of Representatives with the goal of repealing the prohibition on rent control enacted in the 1970s. Supporters of the bill said rent control measures were necessary to keep up with population growth and gentrification pricing out lower income residents. Opponents argued rent control would discourage construction of new housing supply needed to meet demand. This bill also failed to advance.

Affordable housing advocates continue to call for giving municipalities more flexibility to address housing affordability issues in their communities. But statewide preemption of rent control remains in effect. For now, the lack of rent restrictions allows landlords to raise rents freely subject only to market conditions.

Arguments For and Against Rent Control

Rent control laws that limit how much landlords can raise rents each year are controversial. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue.

Reasons Supporting Rent Control

  • Prevents displacement of long-term tenants who can't afford large rent increases 
  • Provides housing stability for low and fixed income residents
  • Allows tenants to stay in neighborhoods with access to jobs, schools, transit
  • Protects vulnerable residents from homelessness
  • Slows gentrification and demographic changes
  • Keeps housing affordable long-term in desirable areas 
  • Prevents price gouging by landlords

Reasons Against Rent Control

  • Discourages new construction and reduces supply of affordable housing
  • Can encourage landlords to convert rentals to condos to avoid regulations 
  • Creates a two-tier rental market favoring long-term tenants over new renters
  • Decreases landlord incentives to maintain and improve properties
  • Hurts landlords relying on rental income for retirement
  • Interferes with free market pricing of housing
  • Can lead to black markets and abuse of rent-controlled units

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of rent control laws. The key is striking the right balance between tenant protections and housing supply. Rent control may help some individuals remain in affordable housing, but can negatively impact overall housing availability. There are often better solutions than traditional rent control for keeping housing affordable while encouraging new development.

Impact on Low Income Renters

The lack of statewide rent control protections disproportionately impacts low income renters in Tennessee. As housing costs rise rapidly in cities like Nashville and Memphis, many lower income residents struggle to afford rent. 

Without laws limiting rent increases, landlords can raise rents by any amount at the end of a lease term. Low income tenants often cannot afford sudden large rent hikes. They can be forced to move frequently as landlords increase rents, disrupting their lives.

Renters spending over 30% of their income on housing are considered cost-burdened. In Tennessee, nearly half of renters fall into this category. The lack of rent control contributes to housing instability for many low and moderate income families.

Rapid rent increases have led to concerns about gentrification and displacement pricing out long-time residents. Community advocates argue stronger tenant protections are needed to promote fair access to housing. They contend rent control can help create mixed-income neighborhoods and prevent homelessness.

However, landlords argue rent control would decrease investment in rental housing. They say the solution is increasing supply, not government price controls. With rising demand, landlords can raise rents based on what the market will bear.

Low income tenants have few options under current state law if their landlord imposes a large rent increase they cannot afford. Their best recourse is trying to negotiate a smaller increase, finding a cheaper unit, or seeking rental assistance if eligible. Rent control advocates say the lack of protections harms vulnerable renters.

Tenant Protections in Tennessee

Tennessee tenants have limited protections against rent increases and evictions compared to states with rent control laws. However, there are some important rights that renters should be aware of:

Retaliatory Rent Increases Prohibited

Landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who exercise their legal rights by raising rents punitively. For example, if a tenant makes a complaint to a housing authority about needed repairs, the landlord cannot turn around and hit the tenant with a large rent increase in response. Retaliatory rent increases in Tennessee may be considered harassment or constructive eviction and can allow the tenant to recover damages or get the increase invalidated.

Discrimination Banned

Federal and Tennessee fair housing laws prohibit landlords from raising rents based on a tenant's race, religion, nationality, disability, etc. Discriminatory rent increases may qualify a tenant to recover damages.

Lease Terms Must Be Upheld

If a tenant has a fixed-term lease, the landlord must honor the rent amount specified in the lease for its duration. The rent cannot be arbitrarily raised except at the time of lease renewal.

Month-to-Month Tenants Can Reject Increases

While landlords with month-to-month tenants can raise rents with 30 days notice in Tennessee, the tenant has the option to reject the increase by moving out within that period. Tenants are not obligated to accept rent increases.

So while rent control laws do not exist in Tennessee, tenants do have some basic rights if a landlord attempts to raise the rent in violation of the law or lease terms. Seeking legal assistance is recommended if a rent increase seems retaliatory or discriminatory in nature.

Rent Increase Notice Requirements in Tennessee

Landlords in Tennessee must provide proper written notice before increasing rent on tenants. The specific notice periods required depend on the type of rental agreement:

  • For month-to-month rental agreements, landlords must provide tenants with 30 days advance written notice of any rent increase. If a landlord fails to give full 30 day notice, the rent increase cannot take effect until 30 days after proper notice is provided.
  • For fixed-term leases, like 1-year contracts, landlords must notify tenants of any rent increases before the end of the current lease term, if they want the increase to take effect at renewal. The rent increase cannot take effect until the start of a new rental term, after proper notice is given.
  • Verbal discussions or notifications about rent increases are not sufficient in Tennessee - written notice must be provided. The notice should specifically state the new increased rental amount and when it will take effect.

Proper notice periods for rent increases protect tenants from abrupt rent hikes without time to plan or budget. Tennessee law does not limit how much landlords can raise rents with proper notice. But landlords must follow notice rules based on the rental agreement type when increasing rent.

Alternatives to Rent Control

While Tennessee does not have statewide rent control laws, there are some other options available to help make housing more affordable for tenants.

Rental Assistance Programs

Many cities and counties in Tennessee offer rental assistance programs to help low-income residents pay their rent. These programs provide vouchers or direct payments to landlords to cover all or part of a tenant's rent. Eligibility is based on income limits. Rental assistance can help reduce the burden of rising rents for those who qualify.

Affordable Housing Development

Non-profit and government agencies in Tennessee work to build and maintain affordable housing units. These units have rent restrictions to keep prices below market rates. Expanding affordable housing development creates more options for low to moderate income residents struggling to pay market-rate rents.

Rent Negotiation 

While landlords can raise rents freely in Tennessee, tenants can try to negotiate when signing a new lease. Landlords may agree to smaller increases to retain good tenants and avoid turnover costs. Open communication about the tenant's budget constraints can help in rent negotiations.

Relocation Assistance

Some cities have programs to help tenants who are priced out of their homes find more affordable housing elsewhere. Relocation programs provide financial assistance and other support for displaced tenants. This can ease the transition burden when rents rise beyond a household's means.

Advocacy for Renters' Rights

Tenant advocacy groups lobby state and local governments to pass new protections for renters facing large rent hikes and unjust evictions. Though rent control faces opposition in Tennessee, advocacy efforts continue to push for legal reforms to strengthen tenants' rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are renters' rights in Tennessee?

Renters in Tennessee have rights under the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which include the right to a habitable living environment, the right to privacy with landlords required to provide notice before entry, and protections against retaliatory eviction. Renters also have the right to withhold rent under specific conditions if essential repairs are not made.

Is Tennessee a good landlord state?

Tennessee is often considered a landlord-friendly state. The laws generally provide a supportive environment for landlords regarding lease enforcement, eviction processes, and limited restrictions on rental agreements.

What is the maximum late fee for rent in Tennessee?

Tennessee law does not specify a maximum late fee for rent; however, late fees must be reasonable and are typically stipulated in the lease agreement. Courts may intervene if a late fee appears excessively punitive.

Can a landlord make a tenant pay for repairs in Tennessee?

Landlords are generally responsible for maintaining rental properties in a habitable condition in Tennessee. Tenants are not typically required to pay for repairs that are the landlord’s responsibility unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s negligence or willful acts.

What is the most a landlord can raise your rent in Tennessee?

There is no statutory limit on how much a landlord can raise rent in Tennessee. Rent increases are subject to the terms of the lease, and landlords must provide appropriate notice, usually 30 days, before raising rent, especially for month-to-month leases.

Is Tennessee a tenant-friendly state?

Tennessee is not typically considered tenant-friendly compared to states with more robust protections for renters. While it provides basic tenant rights, the regulatory environment generally favors landlords, particularly in areas such as rent control, eviction procedures, and lease terms.

Featured Tools
Finding and Selecting the Best Tenant
For a $2,000 monthly rental: 1. You lose $1,000 if you have your rental on the market for 15 additional days. 2. You lose $1,000+ for evictions. Learn how to quickly find and select a qualified tenant while following the law.
More Tools