Law FAQ: What are the duties of landlords under Tennessee law?

A frequent question that clients ask is what obligations does their landlord owe to them.  Tennessee has adopted an act referred to as URLTA (“Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act”) that is limited to certain counties in Tennessee, including Davidson and Shelby counties, and that only applies to residential leases.  While URLTA includes many detailed provisions, the most common problems stem from inadequate maintenance by landlords.

Under URLTA, a landlord must do the following:

  • Comply with requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
  • Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;
  • Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition; and
  • In multi-unit complexes of four (4) or more units, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish and other waste from common points of collection.

Tenants should also note that URLTA allows the landlord and tenant to make a written agreement where the tenant agrees to perform specified repairs, maintenance tasks, alterations, and remodeling.  While such an agreement cannot be made by the landlord to escape the above obligations, it does allow the tenant to have a degree of control over how such maintenance is performed.

If your landlord fails to do any of the above, you should immediately give him/her written notice of the URLTA violation.  Depending on how your landlord responds, you should then consider contacting an attorney for legal guidance.  There are various remedies available to tenants when landlords fail to meet the above obligations.  Our firm handles a wide variety of such issues.  If you feel that your landlord has violated URLTA, please give us a call.

To read find out more about URLTA, its provisions can be found in T.C.A. § 66-28-101 et seq.

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10 Comments
  • Sandra Showalter, RN

    March 27, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Hello–my name is Sandra Showalter, and I am a nurse care coordinator with TennCare Choices program–and I have many members who reside in rental properties including houses, duplexes, and apartments–and I have found your website very helpful and informative. I see many instances where the landlord is not maintaining a safe residence. I do have 2 questions—1) Is a landlord responsible for pest control in owned properties–or is pest control the responsibility of the tenant? The Gov spends a lot of money on pest control for our members. 2) Is a landlord responsible for providing appliances in rental properties? I would really appreciate your response–as I see this sort of thing quite often. Thanks so much.

    • Chase Fisher

      April 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

      Ms. Showalter,

      Thank you for your question. I am glad to hear that the firm’s blog has been helpful to you. While your question should be simple to answer, it is actually quite involved. First, the URLTA statute does not apply to every type of housing in every county. For example, it does not apply in counties with populations less than 68,000 and it does not apply to “any occupancy in a public housing unit or other housing unit that is subject to regulation by the department of housing and urban development and owned by a governmental entity or non-profit corporation to the extent such regulation conflicts with state law, but shall apply to the extent that any such regulations defer to the application of state law.” (T.C.A. 66-28-102(d)) (I have copied this portion of the URLTA statute below). Therefore, if the housing is HUD housing or otherwise subject to control by a federal department, there may be federal rules that address your questions.

      Second, the statute defers to local building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety; thus the answer to your questions may be different in Davidson County, as opposed to Shelby County (it may even differ from city-to-city). That being said, the City of Memphis requires the owner of a multifamily dwelling to provide for the extermination of insects, rodents, etc. (see http://library.municode.com/HTML/16109/level3/TIT14BUCO_CH14-4HOCO_DIV1REFA.html).

      Concerning appliances, Memphis only requires such appliances as a kitchen sink, shower/bathtub, commode, etc. (see http://library.municode.com/HTML/16109/level3/TIT14BUCO_CH14-4HOCO_DIV1REFA.html). Appliances such as ovens or refrigerators are not required to be provided.

      I hope that this information was helpful. As you can see, there is not a simple answer to your questions; thus, I would recommend that your members consult an attorney if they believe that their landlord is in violation of URLTA and/or local code provisions.

      T.C.A. § 66-28-102. Application
      (a) This chapter applies only in counties having a population of more than sixty-eight thousand (68,000), according to the 1970 federal census or any subsequent federal census.
      (b) This chapter applies to rental agreements entered into or extended or renewed after July 1, 1975. Transactions entered into before July 1, 1975, and not extended or renewed after that date, and the rights, duties and interests flowing from them remain valid and may be terminated, completed, consummated, or enforced as required or permitted by any statute or other law amended or repealed by this chapter as though the amendment or repeal has not occurred.
      (c) Unless created to avoid the application of this chapter, the following arrangements are not governed by this chapter:
      (1) Residence at an institution, public or private, if incidental to detention or the provision of medical, geriatric, educational, counseling, religious, or similar service;
      (2) Occupancy under a contract of sale of a dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part, if the occupant is the purchaser or a person who succeeds to the purchaser’s interest;
      (3) Transient occupancy in a hotel, or motel or lodgings subject to city, state, transient lodgings or room occupancy under the Excise Tax Act, compiled in title 67, chapter 4, part 20;
      (4) Occupancy by an owner of a condominium unit or a holder of a proprietary lease in a cooperative; or
      (5) Occupancy under a rental agreement covering premises used by the occupant primarily for agricultural purposes.
      (d) This chapter shall not apply to any occupancy in a public housing unit or other housing unit that is subject to regulation by the department of housing and urban development and owned by a governmental entity or non-profit corporation to the extent such regulation conflicts with state law, but shall apply to the extent that any such regulations defer to the application of state law.

      Sincerely,
      Chase D. Fisher, II

  • Jennifer

    August 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    My month to month tenant died 08/10/2012 in Hamilton County TN. Am I (the landlord) responsible for keeping his belongings locked up until it is determined who is the next of kin? How long do I have to wait before I can rid the home of his belongings? and what happens if the home is damaged while he is not there. (like when his family gets his belongings and leaves all the worthless garbage for someone else to clean up).

    • LangWiseman

      August 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      That’s an interesting question that we’ve not actually run into before. I suspect you’d probably need to follow normal procedure and file an FED action in order to get a writ of possession. Having said that, there’s no way I could certain without doing some additional research. I would encourage you to schedule a brief consultation with a local Chattanooga landlord/tenant lawyer (not sure if Hamilton County is subject to the state Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which may affect the answer to your question).

  • Michael

    December 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    i moved out of my apartment a little over 100 days ago. I received a letter from my last apartment building stating I owe them over $1,000.00. The letter stated that there were holes in the walls and mold on the windows and seals. There are other charges also. I thought that that they thirty days to send such a letter. I live in Shelby County Tennessee. Please help…

  • Brandy Liles

    December 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    We have a house in Collierville and we were transferred. We put it up for rent or sell and it rented first. I hired a property management company to handle everything to ensure everything was as it should be. This was our home not a slum piece of property and was in near perfect condition. This was a luxury home rental with rent of $2750. They did not pay and we had to evict. We found out they had multiple families living in the house. I am not sure a this point whether the information they provided was true in order to afford the house. So here are my questions. I have names of the other people that were in the house that were not on lease. If neighbors will testify that they saw them all move in and out and there daily, can I sue all of them for damages and breach of contract or just the person signed on lease? Can I include his wife, if she didn’t sign lease? The management company says they verified their story of were they were coming from, income, tax returns and credit score and they mored than qualified for our house. They were there for less than 90 days (they said they were in their last house for 2 years) and did more damage than our hearts could bare. They have done well over $3000 in damage (and we are not done)and broke a contract worth over $60,000. Thank you.

    • LangWiseman

      January 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I am so sorry to hear of your situation. Nothing is worse than being taken advantage of.

      As for your specific question, you may certainly file suit against the person who signed the lease; however, I’ve never specifically researched the issue of whether you can sue an occupant under a breach of contract theory as if he/she were a signatory on the lease. I suspect not. Having said that, you could presumably sue anyone who intentionally or negligently caused damage to your property; however, you would obviously need to know who was involved, what damage they were responsible for, and how the damage occurred. (That’s a pretty tall order and likely to be an expensive proposition.)

      If I were you, I would at a minimum look at my insurance and/or talk to my agent and see what type of damage coverage you have for the house. And if you don’t have coverage, talk to your agent about making sure you have it going forward.

  • Kristy

    January 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I rent a full service restaurant that was fully furnished with almost all equipment in Hamilton county, tn. The county made us install a grease trap under the landlord’s sink and another under a leased dishwasher 1/15/09. We paid the $3500 and closed 1.5 days. Now, the county is requesting a 1000 gallon grease interceptor be installed in the ground and we must close 3-5 days minimum and re-tile the kitchen. An approximate cost of $15,000. Who would be responsible for this cost?

    • LangWiseman

      January 18, 2013 at 9:56 am

      In order to answer your question, and attorney would need to carefully review the terms of your lease agreement. You should schedule a brief consultation with a lawyer there in Hamilton County.

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