Dealing with Problem Tenants in Tennessee: A Guide for Landlords

Owning rental property can be a rewarding investment, but it also comes with the responsibility of managing tenants. Unfortunately, even the most meticulous landlords can encounter problem tenants at some point. This guide explores strategies for preventing tenant issues, navigating the eviction process in Tennessee, and considering mediation as an alternative.

Dealing with problem tenants TN

Prevention: The Best Defense

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true for landlords. A thorough tenant screening process is your first line of defense against problem tenants. Here are key steps:

  • Application Process: Develop a detailed rental application that gathers information about potential tenants, including income, employment history, rental history, and references. Charge a non-refundable application fee to cover screening costs.
  • Verification: Don’t just take applications at face value. Verify income with pay stubs or contact employers directly. Contact previous landlords to inquire about the tenant’s payment history, adherence to lease terms, and overall conduct. Consider a background check, keeping in mind Fair Housing Laws.
  • Credit Check: While not a sole deciding factor, a credit check can offer insight into a tenant’s financial responsibility. Look for a history of on-time payments and a manageable debt load.
  • Interview: Conduct in-person interviews with shortlisted applicants. This allows you to assess their communication skills, demeanor, and overall impression. Gauge their understanding of the lease terms and expectations.

Setting Clear Expectations: The Power of the Lease

A well-written lease agreement is crucial for a smooth landlord-tenant relationship.  The lease should clearly outline:

  • Rent amount and due date
  • Late fees and penalties
  • Permitted occupants
  • Use of the property (e.g., pet restrictions, noise limitations)
  • Maintenance responsibilities (what’s the landlord’s and tenant’s responsibility for repairs)
  • Termination clause (outlining procedures for lease termination by either party)

By having these expectations clearly documented, you minimize misunderstandings and provide a reference point for addressing potential issues.

Addressing Issues Early: Nip it in the Bud

Don’t let problems fester. If you observe a tenant violating the lease agreement, address the issue promptly and professionally. Here’s how:

  • Written Communication: Always communicate concerns with the tenant in writing. This creates a documented record of the issue and your attempt to resolve it. Use clear and concise language, referencing the specific lease clause being violated.
  • Severity Matters: Tailor your communication based on the severity of the issue. Minor infractions might warrant a friendly reminder, while serious violations like late rent or property damage might require a formal notice to cure.
  • Maintain Documentation: Keep a detailed record of all communication with the tenant, including emails, letters, and notes from phone calls. Document dates, times, and the specific details of the conversation. This documentation will be invaluable if you need to pursue legal action.

The Eviction Process in Tennessee

If a tenant continues to violate the lease agreement or fails to meet their obligations, eviction might become necessary. Here’s an overview of the eviction process in Tennessee:

  • Grounds for Eviction:  Tennessee law allows eviction for various reasons, including:
    • Non-payment of rent
    • Material lease violations (e.g., unauthorized occupants, property damage)
    • Criminal activity on the premises
    • Holding over after the lease expires (without renewing)
  • Notice to Quit:  The first step is typically a written “Notice to Quit,” informing the tenant of the violation and providing a specific number of days to cure the issue (usually 3-14 days for non-payment, 14-30 days for other violations). Use a standard form available from your local court or consult an attorney.
  • Court Proceedings:  If the tenant doesn’t comply with the Notice to Quit, you’ll need to file for eviction in court. The process involves filing paperwork, attending court hearings, and potentially presenting evidence.  It’s highly recommended to consult with a landlord-tenant attorney familiar with Tennessee law for guidance through this intricate process.

Mediation: An Alternative to Court

Tennessee law encourages mediation as an alternative to eviction proceedings. Mediation involves a neutral third party facilitating communication between you and the tenant to explore a mutually agreeable solution. Here are some benefits of mediation:

  • Faster and Less Expensive:  Mediation can be significantly faster and less expensive than a court case. Court proceedings can be lengthy and involve court fees and attorney costs.
  • Preserving Relationships:  If there’s a chance to salvage the landlord-tenant relationship, mediation can provide a platform for open communication and finding a compromise that works for both parties.
Landlord guide for problem tenants

Specific Issues and Strategies for Problem Tenants in Tennessee

While the core principles of prevention and clear communication apply to most situations, problem tenants can manifest their issues in various ways. Here’s a deeper dive into specific tenant problems and strategies for addressing them:

1. Non-Payment of Rent:

This is a major concern for landlords. Here are some strategies:

  • Late Fees: Implement clear late fee policies outlined in the lease. Ensure late fees comply with Tennessee law (maximum of 15% of the monthly rent or $50, whichever is greater).
  • Payment Options: Consider offering online payment options for convenience and timely rent collection.
  • Early Detection: Monitor rent payments closely and address late payments promptly with a written notice.
  • Follow Up: If late payments become a recurring issue, schedule a meeting with the tenant to discuss the situation and explore potential solutions, like a payment plan.
  • Legal Action: If the tenant fails to cure the non-payment after the Notice to Quit period, proceed with eviction through the court system.

2. Property Damage:

Unreasonable property damage beyond normal wear and tear is unacceptable. Here’s how to handle it:

  • Inspections: Conduct thorough move-in and move-out inspections with the tenant present, documenting the property’s condition with photos and a detailed checklist.
  • Security Deposit: Clearly outline how security deposits will be handled in the lease, including deductions for repairs due to excessive damage beyond normal wear and tear.
  • Documentation: If you discover property damage during the tenancy, document it thoroughly with photos and written reports.
  • Repair and Recovery: Obtain estimates for repairs and deduct the cost from the security deposit upon tenant move-out, following proper procedures outlined in Tennessee law.

3. Lease Violations:

These encompass various issues like unauthorized occupants, exceeding the pet limit, or disruptive behavior. Here’s how to address them:

  • Clear Lease Terms: Ensure your lease clearly outlines what constitutes a lease violation and the consequences for such violations.
  • Progressive Discipline: Start with a friendly reminder for minor violations. For serious or repeated violations, a formal Notice to Cure with a specific timeframe for compliance is necessary.
  • Eviction: If the tenant continues to violate the lease after the Notice to Quit period, eviction might be the only option.

4. Disruptive or Nuisance Tenants:

Tenants who create excessive noise, engage in illegal activity, or disturb other residents can be a major headache. Here are some steps:

  • Noise Ordinance: Familiarize yourself with your local noise ordinances and include relevant excerpts in the lease agreement.
  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of disruptive behavior, including dates, times, and witness statements (if applicable).
  • Contact Local Authorities: If the behavior involves criminal activity, report it to the police immediately.
  • Eviction: Depending on the severity and persistence of the disruptive behavior, eviction proceedings might be necessary.

5. Holding Over (Overstaying the Lease):

If a tenant refuses to move out after the lease expires, it’s considered holding over. Here’s how to handle it:

  • Lease Renewal: Clearly outline the lease renewal process in the lease agreement, including procedures and deadlines.
  • Notice to Vacate: If the tenant doesn’t intend to renew, provide a written Notice to Vacate well in advance of the lease expiration, as required by Tennessee law.
  • Eviction: If the tenant remains after the lease expires and ignores the Notice to Vacate, eviction proceedings will be necessary.

Additional Considerations:

  • Fair Housing Laws: Always ensure your screening practices and policies comply with Fair Housing Laws to avoid discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability.
  • Maintenance Responsibilities: Clearly define maintenance responsibilities in the lease agreement. Respond to tenant requests for repairs in a timely manner to prevent potential arguments about habitability.
  • Security Deposits: Follow Tennessee law regarding security deposits, including setting reasonable limits, providing a detailed accounting of deductions upon move-out, and returning the deposit within the required timeframe.

By understanding these specific issues and implementing appropriate strategies, you can be better prepared to address problem tenants and minimize their impact on your rental property. Remember, an ounce of prevention and clear communication are your best defenses. However, when faced with persistent issues, don’t hesitate to seek legal guidance from a landlord-tenant attorney familiar with Tennessee law.


Dealing with problem tenants can be stressful and time-consuming. By prioritizing preventive measures like thorough tenant screening and a clear lease agreement, you can significantly reduce the risk of encountering issues. However, even the most cautious landlords might face challenges. If you do encounter a problem tenant, remember to address issues early, document everything, and understand your rights and responsibilities under Tennessee law. Consider mediation as a potential solution before resorting to eviction proceedings.

Here are some additional resources for Tennessee landlords:

  • Tennessee Justice Court website: Provides information on eviction procedures specific to your county, including forms and fee schedules. [[Tennessee Justice Court website]]
  • Tennessee Apartment Association (TAA): Offers educational resources, legal updates, and advocacy for landlords in Tennessee. [[Tennessee Apartment Association website]]
  • Landlord-Tenant Attorney: Consulting an attorney experienced in Tennessee landlord-tenant law is highly recommended, especially for complex situations involving evictions or disputes.

By being proactive, informed, and prepared, you can effectively manage your rental properties and minimize the impact of problem tenants. Remember, successful property management involves not just finding good tenants but also having a system in place to address issues efficiently and fairly.

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