Legal FAQs for Renters in Tennessee

This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information.

This page was last updated on Apr 19th, 2024. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

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Problem with your Landlord?

Can I break my rental home lease in Tennessee?

You may be able to break your lease if you can come to an agreement with your landlord.

You can talk to your landlord to see if they will agree to let you leave early. If they agree, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Also, you can review your lease. It may have a part that lets you end the lease early in times of financial difficulty. If your lease has this kind of part, you might be able to end the lease early (in some cases penalty-free).

Find legal help to get advice for your situation.

What if I need repairs to my rental home in Tennessee?

Tell your landlord about any repairs needed, particularly if they affect your health and safety.

You should call your landlord to make the repairs as soon as possible.

Emergency repairs could be for problems with:

  • Running water or hot water

  • Heat

  • Stove or oven

  • Electricity

  • Bathroom use

  • Missing doors, locks, or windows

  • Pests

If your landlord doesn't make the repairs promptly, send them a written letter or email about the need for emergency repairs (and keep a copy of this communication).

Reach out for legal help for additional guidance.

Behind on Rent?

Am I eligible for rent relief?

Local governments set the rules about who is eligible for rent relief. Most programs focus on people who have suffered COVID-19 hardships. You can talk to your local Rental Assistance program to learn their eligibility rules. You may have to show your household income, or if you are on other benefits programs like SNAP. You may also have to show that you are at risk of homelessness or eviction if you don't get rental assistance. Check with your local Rental Assistance program to see if you are eligible.

Does immigration status matter for rent relief?

Many local Rental Assistance programs are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Many programs do not even ask about immigration status.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to make sure about eligibility rules and immigration.

Who can help me with rent that I owe in Tennessee?

If you are behind on rent, you can get help from your local Rental Assistance program. This is a government service to help people who owe rent or utility bills.

Especially if you are behind on rent because of COVID-19 hardships, your local Rental Assistance (or Rent Relief) program can help you.

Find your local Rental Assistance program at your Get Help page here.

Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?

Most Rental Assistance programs let landlords apply.

Either a renter or a landlord can start the application.

The landlord will have to fill in as much information they have about the amount of money needed, and the eligibility for the program. The tenant may have to fill in the rest of the information.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program about the steps to follow to apply for rent relief.

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in Tennessee. What if I can't afford to pay it?

You still have time to reach out for rental assistance, and stop the eviction from moving forward.

Be sure to let the local group know that you have received an eviction notice and what its deadline is. They may be able to help you pay the rent you owe, or work with your landlord to reduce the amount or put you on a payment plan.

Find local financial help in Tennessee here.

Do I have to leave my home in Tennessee by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date?

No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice.

You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can make you leave.

After the date on the eviction notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in Tennessee?

In small counties, your landlord can orally tell you to get out.

In large counties, if you are being evicted because you haven’t paid rent, your landlord may not have to tell you they want you out before taking you to court. Check your lease. If your landlord is required to give you notice, the notice will be 14 days.

Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in Tennessee. What should I do?

You do not have to leave your home yet.

In Tennessee, if you live in a large county (population 75,000 or more), your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent or prepare defenses against eviction.

This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.

These are the general requirements for all Tennessee notices:

  1. The notice must be written down.

  2. The notice must tell you why your landlord is evicting you.

  3. The notice should include the date of the notice, the name of the tenants, the address of the rental property, and the amount of time the tenant has to remedy the situation or vacate the rental property.

  4. The notice is usually served by the landlord personally on the tenant, on a co-tenant, by posting it to the door or by certified mail.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice to pay back the rent to stop the eviction in Tennessee?

You should try your best to pay back the rent before your landlord files an eviction in court. Once your landlord has filed an eviction in court, they do not have to let you pay back the rent you owe.

In some counties in Tennessee, your landlord may be required to give you 14 days to pay back the rent after they give you notice.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in Tennessee?

You can come to an agreement, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed. You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home. Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it. Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen. You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed. Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in Tennessee. What should I do?

You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit.

If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In Tennessee, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:

  1. The detainer warrant may be served by any person who is not a party and is not less than 18 years of age. The person who serves the tenant must be identified by name and address on the return.

  2. If you can’t be found and served in person, the detainer can be taped to your door. If the detainer is taped to your door, your landlord should also send you a copy in the mail.

  3. The detainer warrant must say when and where your court date is, and tell you that if you don’t come to court you will lose automatically.

You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, you are not required to respond to the eviction lawsuit before court.

You will have an eviction hearing automatically scheduled at court. You must appear there if you want to defend yourself against the eviction. But you do not have to submit anything to the court or your landlord before this hearing.

Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.

Find local legal help in Tennessee here.

Emergency Protections during COVID

What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me?

Contact a legal help organization to help defend yourself. It is illegal for your landlord to evict you without first going to court and getting an eviction order. To remove you from your home, a landlord must take you to court by filing an eviction lawsuit, win the case, and getting an eviction order from the court. Legal aid groups might be able to provide you with full representation, or other legal organizations can give you information or brief advice. Find legal help to protect your rights.

Can my utilities be shut off during the emergency?

Tennessee renters' utilities cannot be shut off during the emergency period.

The Tennessee Public Utility Commission ordered that all regulated utility must continue services for residents during the emergency period. No customer should have home utilities shut off during the emergency, based on an inability to pay.

Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.

Can my landlord evict me during the emergency in Tennessee?

Tennessee landlords can sue tenants for eviction since the statewide protections ended.

If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.

Do I still have to pay rent during the emergency in Tennessee?

Yes, Tennessee renters still need to pay rent during the emergency.

Check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the emergency.

If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:

  • Apply for rental assistance: If you need financial assistance for housing costs like rent or utility bills, you may be able to get help.

  • Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord as soon as possible. Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. You can use this letter-writing tool here.

  • Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.

  • Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc.(

If you are struggling to pay rent in Tennessee, reach out for legal and financial help quickly.

What do the protections mean for Tennessee renters?

Since the emergency protections ended, then for renters in Tennessee:

  • Your landlord can give you a notice to quit.

  • Your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you.

  • The court may allow the eviction trial to move forward.

  • The court can issue a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against you.

  • Law enforcement can enforce an existing eviction order against you, to remove you from your home.

Are eviction cases still proceeding through Tennessee courts?

All Tennessee state court proceedings, including for evictions, have resumed as of June 1, 2020.

Check the Tennessee Courts for any updates.

Are there any special protections for Tennessee renters during the COVID-19 emergency?

Tennessee's statewide emergency protections for renters have expired. Landlords may now attempt to evict renters in Tennessee.

If you are worried about eviction, contact your local legal aid group as soon as possible. They may help you find protections and services to deal with the eviction.

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