By Jedidiah McKeehan
This article contains basic information about the applicable laws that might affect you if you’re renting property, and specifically, in East Tennessee where my experiences have been with eviction proceedings, but first, let me paint a picture for you:
You decided to rent a place to live. The landlord seemed nice enough when you first moved in, but after you got behind a few days on rent, he threatened to throw you and your stuff out if you didn’t have the rent to him within the next 24 hours!
What do you do? Do you have any rights? I get phone calls all the time from individuals who want to know what their landlord can and cannot do. Conversely, I’ve had landlords with one or two rental properties call and ask for advice on how to deal with troublesome renters.
Facing an eviction can be frightening, especially if you don’t know your options. Many renters have their rights violated during an eviction process because they don’t know that Tennessee law grants them certain rights.
Very strict rules govern the circumstances that allow a landlord to evict a tenant and they can be found in Title 66, Chapter 28 of the Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.). If the landlord doesn’t follow those rules he or she simply cannot legally evict someone, but that does not mean they won’t try. The best way for tenants to respond to an eviction threat is with solid knowledge about their legal rights and the steps a landlord must follow before a legal eviction can occur.
Step 1: Written Notice
The first thing a landlord must do is provide the tenant with a written notice that an eviction will occur in 30 days if the tenant does not comply with the terms of the lease within 14 days. This notice is required by T.C.A. Section 66-28-505. This notice must be served before a landlord may formally file for an eviction and it may be as simple as a one page paper handed to the tenant.
Tennessee law permits landlords to evict tenants for several specific reasons: non-payment of rent, end of lease term, breach of lease contract, safety or noise issues, illegal activity, or property abandonment. If other reasons are included in the lease, they may be permitted, as long as they can’t be classified as some sort of discrimination.
Keep in mind that a tenant hasn’t actually “received” written notice unless the notice is provided in one of these three ways: hand delivered by landlord, posted on the property (i.e. taped to the front door, put in the mailbox, etc.), or sent via certified mail.
Step 2: Eviction Papers
The next step a landlord must then perform is to file an Eviction Notice with the general sessions court in the county where the property is located. The landlord may set the date for the hearing of this matter for whatever day they desire (in Knox County, evictions are heard every Tuesday and Thursday), but it is usually a few weeks to a month from the date on which they filed for the eviction.
The landlord must provide either a written copy of the eviction paperwork to the tenant through a process server or a written copy of what was posted on the property or sent via certified mail.
Step 3: The Eviction Hearing
At this point in the proceeding, if not before, you may desire to hire an attorney to represent you to show to the court that the eviction is fraudulent, based upon inappropriate grounds, or that the landlord has failed to comply with the terms of the lease or the requirements of Tennessee law regarding evictions, such as providing proper notice of the pending eviction. If you, as the tenant are successful, congratulations! If not, there are still several steps the landlord must comply with before you are required to vacate the premises.
As a landlord, keep in mind also that if you have a limited liability company or corporation that owns the property instead of an individual, you must have an attorney represent the company. A company cannot represent itself in legal proceedings.
Step 4: Period for Appeal
A tenant has 10 days to appeal an eviction judgment in Tennessee. If a tenant decides to appeal, he or she must file an appeal in circuit court and file an appeal bond with the general sessions court. Remember to file the appeal bond or you will be defeated in your appeal before you start. A new trial date will be set in circuit court, and at that time, the tenant must appeal the decision with evidence contesting the eviction.
Step 5: Writ of Possession
The landlord can do nothing to remove you from the property until the 10-day appeal period has run. After that time period has lapsed, the landlord must then file with general sessions court a Writ of Possession for the leased premises. The writ gives possession of the residence back to the landlord. At that point, within 2-3 days of the Writ being filed, a tenant will be physically made to leave by a sheriff and all of tenant’s property will be removed from the residence.
Finding yourself in the process of being evicted is not an enviable position, but it is important to know the many time periods and requirements so that you are able to keep yourself on the premises for the entirety of the period to which you are entitled.
Hopefully, you’ll never be evicted!
Jedidiah McKeehan is a young, enthusiastic attorney in Knoxville, TN. He works in many areas, including personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, worker’s compensation, probate and criminal.