Tennessee Tenant-Landlord Rental Laws & Rights for 2024

In Tennessee, there are specific laws that govern the relationship between landlords and tenants. These laws outline the rights and responsibilities of each party, aiming to create a fair and balanced rental environment. As a tenant or landlord, understanding these regulations is crucial to protecting your interests and avoiding potential disputes.

Tenants in Tennessee have certain rights, such as the right to a habitable living space, privacy, and freedom from discrimination. Landlords, on the other hand, have the responsibility to maintain the property, respect their tenants' rights, and follow proper procedures for rent collection, evictions, and other rental-related matters.

Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a tenant or landlord can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure a smooth rental experience. It can also empower you to take appropriate action if any issues arise, such as requesting necessary repairs, addressing discrimination concerns, or properly terminating a lease agreement.

Whether you're a first-time renter or an experienced landlord, familiarizing yourself with Tennessee's tenant-landlord laws is an essential step in protecting your interests and maintaining a positive rental relationship.

Tenant vs. Landlord Responsibilities

In Tennessee, both tenants and landlords have specific rights and responsibilities under the state's landlord-tenant laws. 

Tenants are generally responsible for:

  • Paying rent on time
  • Keeping the rental unit clean and undamaged beyond normal wear and tear
  • Disposing of garbage properly
  • Using facilities and appliances in a reasonable manner
  • Not disturbing other tenants or neighbors
  • Obtaining written approval from the landlord before modifying the property
  • Notifying the landlord promptly of needed repairs or maintenance
  • Returning the property in the same condition as when they moved in (except for normal wear)

Landlords are responsible for:

  • Maintaining the rental property in a habitable condition by keeping common areas clean and ensuring proper operation of electrical, plumbing, heating, and other systems
  • Making repairs in a timely manner when issues arise, unless the damage was caused by the tenant's negligence
  • Providing working locks for the exterior doors of rental units
  • Supplying running water, reasonable heat, and adequate garbage receptacles
  • Adhering to all building and housing codes that impact health and safety
  • Respecting tenants' right to privacy and providing proper notice before entering
  • Not interrupting essential services like utilities, unless for temporary emergency repairs
  • Following all security deposit laws and properly accounting for any deductions
  • Not discriminating against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, or familial status

Both parties must uphold their end of the lease agreement and follow Tennessee's landlord-tenant laws. Open communication and documentation are key to a smooth rental experience.

The Rental Agreement

In Tennessee, a rental agreement or lease is a legally binding contract between the tenant and landlord. It outlines the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each party during the rental term. While verbal agreements are technically valid, it's highly recommended to have a comprehensive written agreement to protect both parties.

A standard Tennessee rental agreement should include:

  • Names of all tenants and the landlord/property manager
  • Description of the rental property (address, unit number, etc.)
  • Term of the rental period (start and end dates for a lease)
  • Amount of monthly rent and any additional fees 
  • Rent payment due date and acceptable payment methods
  • Security deposit amount and conditions for refund
  • Maintenance responsibilities for each party
  • Rules regarding guests, pets, smoking, etc.
  • Entry notification requirements for the landlord

Tennessee law requires certain clauses and disclosures in rental agreements, such as:

  • Landlord must provide the name and address for receiving legal notices
  • Disclosure of any non-refundable fees or deposits
  • Disclosure of authorized late fees and returned check fees
  • Notice that tenants may inspect property condition reports 
  • Notice of the landlord's right to access the property under certain conditions

To better protect both parties, it's advisable to include additional clauses like:

  • Detailed breakdown of which party is responsible for utilities
  • Procedures for requesting repairs and maintenance
  • Restrictions on altering or modifying the property 
  • Consequences for violations of the rental agreement terms
  • Procedures for lease renewal, termination, or extension
  • Clauses regarding property damage, guests, quiet enjoyment, etc.

Having a comprehensive written agreement helps prevent misunderstandings and provides legal recourse if any disputes arise during the tenancy.

Rent Payments and Fees

In Tennessee, there are specific laws that govern how and when rent must be paid, as well as the fees landlords can charge tenants. According to state regulations, landlords must provide tenants with a written notice specifying the due date for rent payments, as well as any additional fees or charges that may apply.

Rent payments are typically due on the first day of each month, unless otherwise stated in the lease agreement. Landlords cannot demand payment of rent before it is due, and tenants are not obligated to pay rent until the due date has arrived. If a tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord may charge a late fee, which is typically a percentage of the monthly rent or a flat rate specified in the lease.

Regarding fees, Tennessee landlords are permitted to charge certain types of fees, such as application fees, pet fees, and move-in fees. However, these fees must be reasonable and cannot be used as a way to circumvent the state's laws on security deposits or rent increases. Landlords are also prohibited from charging non-refundable fees, such as "cleaning fees" or "painting fees," unless the tenant has caused excessive damage to the property.

When it comes to rent increases, Tennessee does not have a statewide rent control laws. However, landlords must still follow certain rules when raising the rent. For example, if a tenant has a fixed-term lease (e.g., a one-year lease), the landlord cannot raise the rent during the lease term unless the lease agreement specifically allows for it. If the tenant is on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must provide at least 30 days' notice before increasing the rent.

It's important to note that landlords cannot raise the rent as a form of retaliation against tenants who have exercised their legal rights, such as requesting repairs or reporting code violations. Additionally, rent increases cannot be discriminatory or based on factors such as race, color, religion, national origin, or disability status.

Security Deposits

In Tennessee, there are specific laws governing security deposits for residential rental properties. The state places a limit on the maximum amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit. For rental agreements of six months or longer, the security deposit cannot exceed the equivalent of 90 days' rent. For rental agreements shorter than six months, landlords can charge a maximum of two months' rent as a security deposit.

Upon termination of the tenancy, landlords in Tennessee must return the security deposit within 30 days if the tenant has provided a forwarding address. If any portion of the deposit is being withheld for damages or unpaid rent, the landlord must provide an itemized list of deductions along with the remaining deposit amount.

Landlords can only deduct from the security deposit for actual damages caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear. This includes things like holes in walls, excessive dirt or grime, missing or broken fixtures, and damage to appliances or flooring. Landlords cannot deduct for routine cleaning or minor scuffs that are considered normal use.

To ensure you get your full security deposit back, tenants should thoroughly clean the rental unit, repair any damages they caused, and provide the landlord with a forwarding address for the deposit return. Take photos and videos documenting the condition of the property before moving out. If any deductions are made improperly, tenants can dispute the charges and potentially take legal action.

Maintenance and Repairs

In Tennessee, landlords have a legal duty to maintain rental properties in a habitable condition and make necessary repairs. This includes ensuring the property complies with applicable housing codes and keeping vital systems like plumbing, heating, and electricity in good working order. 

Tenants have the right to a rental unit that is safe and fit to live in. If a repair issue arises that violates habitability standards, the tenant should promptly notify the landlord in writing. It's best to send the repair request by certified mail or email to create a paper trail. The request should describe the problem in detail and state a reasonable timeframe for completing the repairs based on the severity of the issue.

For minor repairs, landlords typically have 14 days to address the problem after receiving written notice. For more serious issues like lack of heat, water, or other essential services, landlords must begin remedying the situation within a shorter timeframe, often 24-48 hours.

If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs within the required timeline, tenants have some options under Tennessee law:

  • Repair and Deduct: For minor repairs under a certain dollar amount, tenants can hire a qualified professional to do the work and deduct the cost from the next month's rent payment. Tenants must follow specifc procedures.
  • Withhold Rent: Tenants may be able to withhold a portion of rent until the repairs are complete if the issue makes the unit legally uninhabitable. This is risky and should only be done with proper notice.
  • Break the Lease: In cases of serious breaches by the landlord, tenants may be able to legally terminate the lease agreement without penalty after proper notice.
  • Sue the Landlord: As a last resort, tenants can take landlords to court to force completion of major repairs or recover damages for uninhabitable conditions.

Tenants must provide landlords reasonable notice and opportunity to fix problems before pursuing most remedies. Landlord retaliation against tenants for requesting repairs is illegal under Tennessee law.

Access to the Rental Property

In Tennessee, landlords do not have an unlimited right to enter a tenant's rental property. There are specific guidelines in place to protect tenant privacy and prevent landlords from abusing their access. Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their rental homes.

Landlords can only enter a rental unit at reasonable times and for legitimate reasons, such as making repairs, inspecting the premises, or showing the unit to prospective tenants or buyers. However, they must provide proper advance notice, except in cases of emergency.

The standard notice period in Tennessee is at least 24 hours before the intended entry. The notice should state the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. Some situations, like showing the property to new tenants near the end of a lease, may require longer notice of at least 7 days.

Landlords cannot abuse their right of access or use it to harass tenants. Proper notice must be given each time, even if it's for recurring reasons like monthly inspections. Tenants can refuse entry or terminate their lease if the landlord violates these requirements.

Tenants also have the right to be present during the landlord's entry, except in emergencies that threaten person or property. If a tenant is not present, the landlord should leave evidence of entry inside the rental unit.

Landlords who abuse access rights or enter without proper notice may be liable for damages. Tenants who are made to feel harassed or have their privacy violated can take legal action. Maintaining respectful tenant-landlord boundaries is crucial for a healthy rental situation.

Terminating a Tenancy

Proper notice is required by both landlords and tenants to legally terminate a tenancy in Tennessee. The amount of notice depends on the type of tenancy and the reason for termination.

For month-to-month tenancies, landlords must give at least 30 days' written notice to terminate. Tenants only need to provide reasonable notice, typically interpreted as 15-30 days.

For fixed-term leases, landlords can only terminate early for specific legal reasons like substantial lease violations, repeated late rent payments, or illegal activity on the premises. Otherwise, tenancies end automatically when the lease expires. 

Legal reasons a landlord may terminate a tenancy early include:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Substantial violation of lease terms
  • Illegal activity on the property
  • Excessive property damage by tenants
  • Tenant remains on premises after lease ends

Proper written notice specifying the reason must be provided, with the amount of notice depending on the situation (often 14-30 days). The eviction process through the courts must be followed for legal removal of a tenant.

It is illegal in Tennessee for a landlord to terminate a tenancy through "self-help" measures like changing the locks, removing a tenant's belongings, shutting off utilities, or refusing access to the unit. These actions can subject the landlord to penalties and potential legal claims by the tenant.

Tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking have special protections allowing them to terminate a lease early without penalties in certain situations.

The Eviction Process

In Tennessee, a landlord cannot simply lock out a tenant or remove their belongings from a rental unit. There is a specific legal process that must be followed for evictions:

Allowable reasons for eviction in Tennessee include non-payment of rent, violation of the lease terms, tenant misconduct like excessive noise or damage to the property, or the tenant remaining after their lease has expired. 

To begin the eviction process, the landlord must provide proper written notice. For non-payment of rent, the landlord must give 14 days notice to either pay rent or vacate. For violation of the lease, the landlord can give an unconditional quit notice, typically 30 days. 

If the tenant does not move out after receiving proper notice, the landlord must then file an official eviction lawsuit with the local court. The tenant will receive a summons to appear in court and respond to the eviction complaint. At the court hearing, both sides can present evidence and the judge will decide if the eviction is lawful.

Tenants have the right to dispute an eviction if the landlord did not provide proper notice, discriminated against the tenant, or the reason given is retaliatory. Tenants also cannot be evicted for requesting reasonable repairs or exercising other legal rights.

If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, they will issue an order for the eviction. Only after receiving this court order can the landlord proceed with a law enforcement officer to officially remove the tenant and belongings from the property.

Squatters' Rights in Tennessee

In Tennessee, squatters' rights are governed by the doctrine of adverse possession, which allows individuals to claim ownership of a property if they occupy it continuously and meet specific legal criteria over a certain period. Adverse possession laws are designed to encourage property owners to monitor and maintain their properties, ensuring that land is used productively.

Criteria for Adverse Possession

To establish a claim of adverse possession in Tennessee, a squatter must satisfy the following criteria over a statutory period of 7 years if they have color of title (a claim to ownership based on a legal document, even if it is flawed), or 20 years without color of title. The key elements include:

  • Actual Possession: The squatter must physically occupy the property, using it as an owner would. This includes living on the property, making improvements, or maintaining it.
  • Open and Notorious: The possession must be visible and obvious to anyone, including the property owner. The squatter's presence should be apparent and not concealed.
  • Exclusive Possession: The squatter must be the sole occupant of the property, not sharing control with the owner or others.
  • Hostile Possession: The occupation must be without the owner’s permission and against the owner’s interests. Hostility in this context means the squatter does not have legal authorization to be on the property.
  • Continuous Possession: The squatter must occupy the property continuously for the entire statutory period without significant interruption.

Additional Requirements

In Tennessee, the squatter must also pay property taxes on the land during the period of adverse possession. This demonstrates an additional level of commitment and intent to claim ownership of the property.

Property Owners' Rights and Preventative Measures

Property owners in Tennessee can take several steps to prevent adverse possession claims:

  • Regular Inspections: Regularly inspecting and maintaining the property can help identify and address unauthorized occupancy promptly.
  • Clear Boundaries: Maintaining clear property boundaries with fences or signs can deter squatters and establish clear ownership.
  • Prompt Legal Action: Taking swift legal action to remove squatters can prevent them from meeting the continuous possession requirement.
  • Permission: Granting explicit permission for someone to use the property can negate the hostility requirement, thereby preventing an adverse possession claim.

To establish a claim of adverse possession, a squatter typically needs to file a lawsuit to obtain a court judgment recognizing them as the legal owner. The burden of proof is on the squatter to demonstrate that they have met all the criteria for adverse possession. Property owners can challenge these claims by presenting evidence that the criteria were not met, such as showing that the squatter’s possession was not continuous or that they had permission to be on the property.

Discrimination and Retaliation

Both federal and Tennessee state laws prohibit housing discrimination based on certain protected characteristics. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. In Tennessee, additional protections extend to age (for those over 40) and ancestry.

Landlords cannot refuse to rent, impose different rental terms, or misrepresent the availability of housing to someone due to their membership in one of these protected classes. Discriminatory statements in advertising, policies that disproportionately impact certain groups, and failure to allow reasonable accommodations or modifications for disabilities are also prohibited.

If you believe you have faced housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Landlords who violate fair housing laws can face penalties and be required to compensate victims.

Tenants are also protected from retaliation by landlords for exercising their legal rights, such as requesting repairs or reporting housing violations. It is illegal for a landlord to increase rent, decrease services, terminate a lease, or refuse to renew in retaliation against a tenant who has made a good faith complaint. Tenants who face retaliatory actions should document everything and consider consulting a tenants' rights organization or attorney about their options.

Resources and Help

If you find yourself in a dispute with your landlord or need assistance understanding your rights as a tenant in Tennessee, there are several resources available to help.

For legal aid and representation, contact your local legal aid society or tenant's rights organization. These non-profit groups provide free or low-cost legal services to those who qualify based on income. They can advise you on landlord-tenant matters and potentially represent you in court if needed.

Tennessee's county and city government websites often have information on rental rights, landlord obligations, and the eviction process specific to your local area. Many municipalities have fair housing offices that mediate disputes between tenants and landlords.

The Tennessee Fair Housing Council is a statewide non-profit that promotes equal access to housing and enforcement of fair housing laws. They can investigate claims of housing discrimination and provide referral services.

The State of Tennessee Human Rights Commission also handles housing discrimination complaints based on protected classes like race, color, creed, national origin, and disability status.

Remember, it's always wise to read your lease thoroughly, document all communication with your landlord, and keep records of any issues like repair requests or rent payments. Being an informed, organized tenant will strengthen your position if conflicts arise.


What can a landlord not do in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, there are several restrictions on what landlords can and cannot do regarding tenants' rights. Landlords cannot:

  • Shut off essential utilities like water, electricity, or heat, even if the tenant is behind on rent payments.
  • Seize a tenant's personal belongings or lock them out of the rental unit without going through proper eviction proceedings.  
  • Enter the rental unit without proper notice, except in case of emergency.
  • Raise the rent during the term of a fixed lease agreement.
  • Discriminate against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

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

Tennessee does not have statewide rent control laws limiting how much landlords can increase rent. However, if you have a fixed-term lease agreement, the landlord cannot raise the rent until the lease expires. For month-to-month or periodic tenancies with no set lease term, landlords must provide reasonable notice before increasing rent, which is typically 30 days.

How much notice does a tenant have to give in Tennessee?

The amount of notice a tenant must give to terminate a lease or rental agreement depends on the type of tenancy:

  • Fixed-term lease: No notice is required, the lease simply expires on the end date.  
  • Month-to-month tenancy: 30 days written notice is required.
  • Week-to-week tenancy: 10 days written notice is required.

Tenants should always review their specific lease agreement, as it may specify different notice requirements.

What are my rights if I have no lease agreement in Tennessee?

Even without a formal written lease, tenants still have basic rights under Tennessee landlord-tenant law. This includes the right to habitable housing, proper notice for rent increases or lease terminations, and the landlord following legal eviction procedures. However, having a written lease provides more protections, so it's advisable to request one.

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