Legal FAQs for Renters in

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 January 20, 2021. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

COVID-19 Legal FAQs for Renters in Tennessee

Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?

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

You may be protected from eviction through Jan. 31 under the national CDC Eviction Moratorium. Read more below to see if you’re protected.

Tennessee's statewide emergency protections for renters have expired, though some renters may be protected through the national CDC moratorium.

Some renters may be eligible for eviction protection through the CDC Moratorium through January 31, 2021. Check here below to see if you qualify.

What do the protections mean for Tennessee renters?

If you do not qualify for national protections, then in Tennessee:

  • Your landlord can still 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 still 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.

You may still be protected against eviction in Tennessee with the national CDC Eviction Moratorium through January 31, 2021. Read more below to see if you are protected.

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

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

You may be protected for eviction based on nonpayment of rent through January 31, 2021 if you follow the CDC's National Eviction Moratorium's rules. But you may be sued for eviction after the special protections end, and will still owe all your rent.

Also 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:

  • See if you qualify for the national CDC Eviction Moratorium. If you do qualify, fill in the Declaration form and give it to your landlord. This can help stop the eviction, or give you a defense against it.
  • 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. Get help drafting a letter to your landlord here. Also 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.
  • Check for help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs, you may be able to get help.
Can my landlord evict me during the emergency in Tennessee?

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

But if you can't pay your rent because of hardships during COVID, you can try to stop the eviction through the national CDC moratorium.

Some local Tennessee city or county governments may have suspended eviction enforcements. Be sure to check if your local government has any special rules to protect you.

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

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.

Are you eligible for eviction protections under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?

What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium?

The CDC Eviction Moratorium orders that renters should be protected from eviction if they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships like job loss, income loss, or medical expenses. This protection lasts from September 4, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

The CDC Eviction Moratorium is not automatic protection against eviction. Renters need to fill in a Declaration document and give it to their landlord to get the protection.

Landlords may still try to file an eviction lawsuit against renters, but renters can use the moratorium to defend themselves in court.

Do you qualify for protection under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?

The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to people who:

  • Rent a home in the United States; AND
  • Make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return); AND
  • Are facing eviction based on nonpayment of rent (not for other problems, like lease violations or criminal activity); AND
  • Can show they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve had a financial hardship, like losing a job, decrease in income, or medical bills; AND
  • Can show that they’ve been trying their hardest to pay their rent and find any rental assistance; AND
  • Can show that they’re at risk of homelessness if they were to be evicted.

If you live in a state, county, or city that has an eviction moratorium, the CDC Eviction Moratorium doesn’t replace this local one. It adds on top of your local protections.

What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium get you?

The CDC Eviction moratorium can stop an eviction proceeding against you. It could stop your landlord from removing you from your home, or from a court giving your landlord an eviction order through Jan. 31, 2021.

This means:

  • If your landlord has already started an eviction lawsuit against you, you can use the CDC Eviction Moratorium as a defense in court.
  • You can use the Declaration form to tell your landlord that you are protected from eviction, and to ask the court to stop the eviction.
  • You must follow the process below to be protected by the CDC Eviction Moratorium.

The CDC Eviction Moratorium does NOT get you rent relief:

  • Even if you fill in the Declaration, this does not cancel rent that you owe, or stop rent or late fees from building up.
  • After the CDC Moratorium expires on Jan. 31, 2021, you may be evicted for the rent that you owe.

The CDC Eviction Moratorium may NOT stop a landlord from suing you:

  • Even after you fill in the Declaration and send it to your landlord, they might still file an eviction lawsuit against you.
  • You can bring the Declaration to the court eviction hearing, to ask the court to stop the eviction.
  • Call a local lawyer for help if your landlord sues you for eviction.

How do you use the CDC Eviction Moratorium to protect yourself?

To secure CDC Eviction Moratorium protection, follow these steps:

  1. Apply for rental assistance. Look for any rental and utility assistance in your area, and submit applications to these programs. Find local assistance programs here.
  2. Fill out Declarations. You and every adult in the household need to fill out a Declaration about your financial hardships and your attempts to get assistance. In the Declaration, you must say that you are telling the truth and that you may face legal consequences if you are lying. You can use this guide for help with the Declaration.
  3. Send the Declarations to your landlord, and also tell the landlord that you will do your best to pay when you can. Keep a copy of the Declarations, as well as any receipt or documentation that you have sent it to your landlord (like email receipt or screenshots of the message). These can be useful evidence that you followed the process correctly.
  4. Protections through Jan. 31st. After you send this, your landlord cannot remove you from your home for nonpayment of rent through January 31, 2021. They are also never allowed to harass or intimidate you, or force you to leave the home without a court order.
  5. If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you can bring your Declarations to the court to ask them to stop the lawsuit. Contact a legal aid lawyer to help you with the lawsuit. Please note: Your landlord can still evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, like for engaging in criminal activity in the home, violating building codes or health ordinances, or threatening the health and safety of other residents.
  6. You will continue to owe your rent. Try to make a plan about how you will take care of all the rent you owe. At the end of the Eviction Moratorium protections on Jan. 31, 2021, you will no longer be protected from being evicted.
  7. Make sure you know your lease and its terms. Some landlords may try to evict you based on violations of the terms in your lease. If you know your lease, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not break any of its terms.

If your landlord is trying to evict you, you should contact a legal aid attorney who helps with evictions. The CDC Eviction Moratorium might give you protections that lawyers can help you with.

What if I need repairs?

Can I break my lease?

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

Are eviction cases still proceeding through Tennessee courts?

My landlord gave me an eviction notice

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.

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.

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.

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?

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

I've been sued in court for eviction

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.

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.

Its information is taken from these sources:Tenn. Supreme Court orderTenn. utilities orderLegal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the CumberlandsPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect Tracker

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