Eviction is a process no renter ever wants to endure and no landlord wants to have to pursue. Therefore, it is extremely important that both tenants and landlords, alike, understand their rights in order to avoid such stressful situations. With a general knowledge of how to prevent and deal with issues that arise in a lease agreement, tenants can arm themselves against the occasional overbearing landlord, and landlords can, in turn, protect themselves and their property against tenants who fail to pay their rent or break some other term of the lease agreement.
Tennessee law governing the rights and duties of landlords and tenants varies according to the county in which you live. This is especially true with metropolitan areas verses rural counties. If there is not a written lease, a tenant generally has the right to occupy the rental property from month to month, which means that he or she cannot be legally evicted without at least one month’s notice. If there is a written lease, the lease might change these terms or give a tenant the right to stay longer.
A landlord must maintain the property according to any building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety. The landlord must also make any repairs necessary to keep the property in a fit and habitable condition. However, the lease agreement might make the tenant responsible for certain repairs. Both parties should carefully read and review any agreement to make sure each party understands its terms. Tenants are also obligated to obey all building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety. They also have a duty to keep the property as clean and safe as it was at the time the tenant moved into the rental property. In addition, tenants must not act in any manner that would disturb neighbors, and a tenant cannot permit his or her guests to disturb the neighbors.
Landlords, on the other hand, must provide “essential services” meaning a utility service (such as heat and electricity) and anything else that the landlord promised to provide in the lease–if it materially affects the tenant’s health and safety. If a landlord fails to provide essential services, the tenant must tell the landlord about the problem in writing. Then, if the landlord does not solve the problem, a tenant may obtain the service at his or her own expense and deduct the cost from the rent; or may even sue the landlord for the difference between the rent paid and the fair rent due under the circumstances. In some extreme cases, the tenant may obtain substitute housing until the landlord complies, in which case a tenant may not owe rent until the landlord corrects the problem; and cannot also request the cost of the substitute housing.
A landlord may not evict a tenant or interrupt essential services just because the parties having a dispute. A landlord has to get a court order before forcibly evicting a tenant. If the landlord evicts or cuts off services without a court order, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages, and the landlord might also have to pay lawyer’s fees. If the tenant violates the lease or fails to pay rent, the landlord must send notice of the problem and give the tenant 30 days to correct the problem. If the tenant do not correct the problem, he or she will have to leave at the time set in the notice. However, if the landlord knows about the problem and accepts rent from the tenant without complaining, the landlord cannot later evict the tenant for violating the lease for that reason, at least until the landlord tells gives notice that the tenant must start following the rules again. If a tenant corrects the problem, but it happens again within six months, the landlord may cancel the lease after 14 days’ notice.
If a tenant rents on a month-to-month basis, the landlord may cancel the lease by giving 30 days’ notice. However, the 30 days begins to run after the rent is due for the next month after notice is received. For instance, suppose that rent is due on the first of the month, and the landlord gives notice to leave on May 10. The next rent payment is due on June 1, so the 30 days’ notice begins to run on June 1; and the tenant does not have to leave until July 1. If the tenant does not leave at the time required in the notice, the landlord may sue for possession of the property, which is referred to as a detainer warrant. If a tenant refuses to leave, and a detainer action is filed, the tenant could have to pay the landlord damages plus attorney fees if specified in the lease agreement. The landlord only has to give you three days’ notice to leave if the tenant commits an act that is violent or dangerous to others. Yet, even in this situation, the landlord may not evict a tenant by force without a court order and may not cut off essential services to force a tenant to leave.
If filing suit as a landlord or tenant, it will likely be filed in the General Sessions Court in the county in which the rental property is located. If you go to court and an agreement is reached or the judge renders a decision, a party has ten days to appeal the eviction after the judge issues the order. Generally, the law requires both landlords and tenants to behave reasonably with each other and in good faith. If either party behaves unreasonably, a court can enforce the other party’s rights and could even require the offending party to pay the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees. As you can see, there may be several steps involved in the eviction process from both the landlord and tenant’s perspective. If you are unsure about your rights and obligations as a landlord or tenant, please call Breeding Henry Baysan and we would be happy to discuss your situation.