Tennessee’s Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URTLA) (T.C.A. 66-28-101) is the state’s law governing residential leases. It applies to all rental agreements, with the exception of public housing, housing regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and properties owned by a government entity.
URTLA only applies in counties with a population over 68,000. For middle Tennessee, this includes Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner and Williamson Counties. Additionally, the two courts with jurisdiction to hear landlord-tenant disputes are General Sessions Court and Circuit Court.
Why is the URLTA important to you?
In Davidson County alone, over 1,000 detainer warrants are filed each month to evict tenants from their homes. To ensure tenants’ rights are protected under their lease, they must follow the rules set out in the URTLA and make sure their landlord is in compliance as well. Many middle Tennesseans lose their homes and money because of their failure to strictly follow this rules.
When tenants know or believe their landlord is about to evict them from their home, they should be aware that, by law, all notices of eviction will be sent to their last known address. Almost always, this address is the property being vacated. Therefore, if tenants advise their landlord of their new address in writing and retain a copy, this will help them avoid default judgments being entered against them and will protect their rights under the contract.
All landlords must register with the local government agency responsible for building codes. They must give tenants a five-day grace period on the payment of rents. Landlords must keep all security deposits in a separate escrow account. In the event of a judgment against a tenant or debt incurred by a tenant, the tenant’s security deposit will be credited to the landlord.
After tenants vacate the residence, for whatever reason, their landlord must give them an opportunity to inspect the residence for damages and assess any damages before they can be held liable. When tenants disagree with their landlord’s assessment of damages, they are allowed to dissent and compile evidence to present in court to defend against the landlord’s claim. Minor damages, sometimes called “ordinary wear and tear,” are not recoverable by landlords. These types of repairs include repainting interior walls, cleaning carpets, etc.
Condition of Residence
Many tenants have trouble with the condition of their residence and the possible failure of their landlord to make repairs and meet building codes. By law, landlords must comply with the applicable building codes and keep the dwelling in a livable condition. Additionally, landlords have access to the dwelling for inspections or repairs within reason or if there is an emergency. However, they cannot abuse their right to enter the residence simply to harass a tenant.
When landlords fail to provide essential services (e.g. water, electricity, heat and air, etc.), tenants may give their landlord written notice describing the breach of contract and do one of the following:
- Remain in the residence, procure services on their own and deduct that amount from their rental payment;
- Remain in the residence and recover damages based on the decrease in the fair rental value of the residence; or
- Find reasonable substitute housing during the landlord’s non-compliance with the lease and seek to recover the actual and reasonable value of the substitute housing as well as attorney fees.
Once a tenant gives their landlord written notice of the breach, the landlord has 15 days to remedy the breach before the tenant may lawfully take any of the above actions.
Additionally, landlords may not retaliate by increasing rent, decreasing services, or threaten to or bring an action for possession of the dwelling because a tenant made use of any remedy available to them under the law or made complaints regarding T.C.A. 66-28-301.