Your renters’ rights do NOT include withholding rent
I know it’s unfair. I know your landlord’s likely wrong. But never withhold your rent to protest unfair treatment or under-performed maintenance, especially in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s law on landlord-tenant disputes, known as the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URTLA), notoriously leans toward landlords when it comes to rent agreements or leases. Germantown, Tennessee attorney, certified fraud examiner and Wise Choice Kevin Snider of Snider & Horner, PLLC, said withholding rent as a protest is cause to evict a Tennessee tenant, and it could destroy that tenant’s credit. “Moreover, this will greatly damage the tenant’s credibility in the event that court becomes necessary, ” Snider said. “Therefore, even if circumstances exist to justify it as set out and described in the URTLA, I would not recommend (withholding rent).”
Snider said the largest drawback of the URTLA is…it really isn’t uniform at all. He said what few protections it does offer only apply to tenants who live in Tennessee counties with populations of 68,000 people or more. “So for example, if you live in Fayette County, it does not apply,” he said. “Its language favors the landlord in most situations.”
Sapna Raj, the former managing attorney of the Fair Housing Center at the nonprofit Memphis Area Legal Services, prepared this ‘Bill of Renters’ Rights’ for me to share with Tennessee tenants:
1. INSPECT PROPERTY/GET EXPECTED LIVING CONDITIONS IN WRITING BEFORE SIGNING THE LEASE. You must be allowed to inspect the property before you sign anything. If the landlord will not let you inspect it, walk away. Get all required repairs, changes or replacements in writing — in the lease — and if those conditions are not met after signing the lease, the landlord is in breach of contract.
2. DO NOT PAY A DEPOSIT BEFORE SIGNING THE LEASE. There is no legal reason for a landlord to request a deposit before signing a lease or rental agreement.
3. INSIST ON RECEIPTS FOR ANY CASH TRANSACTIONS. If you are required to pay a deposit after signing the agreement, request a receipt if you pay cash. Keep good records of any payments, fees or charges.
4. RENT REQUIRES A PHYSICAL ADDRESS. The landlord must provide a physical address for the payment of rent. That gives the tenant the option of paying by mail or in person. The landlord can come to the residence to collect rent, but only after providing a physical address for sending payment and only with the tenant’s consent.
5. DO NOT AGREE TO AUTOMATIC WITHDRAWAL/ONLINE BILL PAYMENT. Since a landlord is likely a temporary creditor, it is not a good idea for the landlord to have access to your account information.
6. NO LEASE-PURCHASES! Nearly every lease-to-purchase agreement comes with a non-refundable deposit, typically in the thousands of dollars. Also, nearly every one of these arrangements includes a clause that if the tenant misses just one payment, the tenant automatically loses the option to purchase the property.
7. A LEASE IS A BINDING CONTRACT BETWEEN THE TENANT AND LANDLORD.
8. A LANDLORD CANNOT LEGALLY CHANGE LOCKS TO FORCE OUT A TENANT. The landlord must sue the tenant in order to secure a writ of possession and evict the tenant.
9. IF LANDLORD WINS JUDGMENT, TENANT HAS 10 DAYS TO REMOVE BELONGINGS BEFORE THE WRIT IS ISSUED.
10. REQUEST REPAIRS IN WRITING. That establishes a record. Keep a copy.
11. DO NOT WITHHOLD RENT BECAUSE THE LANDLORD HAS NOT MADE REPAIRS. That will give the landlord cause to evict a tenant. Tennessee law does allow tenants to withhold rent when denied essentials like electricity and water, but the withheld funds must be deposited into an escrow account.
12. IF THE LANDLORD DOES NOT COMPLETE REPAIRS, REPORT IT TO YOUR CITY’S OR COUNTY’S CODE ENFORCEMENT AGENCY.
13. RENT CANNOT BE INCREASED DURING A LEASE PERIOD. The landlord can adjust rent once the lease has expired.
14. EARLY TERMINATION OF LEASE MAY REQUIRE YOU TO PAY TERMINATION FEES AND/OR REMAINING RENT DUE.
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