Tennessee state law establishes certain rules for tenants who may decide to move out of a rental property before the lease expires.
Unfortunately, these actions can have serious consequences on a landlord's income and/or rental process, which is why they should understand these rules if they ever come across a similar case.
The following article will tell you everything you need to know about Tennessee law surrounding early terminations. Being able to understand your rights and responsibilities as a landlord, as well as creating a detailed rental agreement, will allow you to have a healthier leasing relationship with your tenant.
What Are the Notice Requirements for Breaking a Lease?
Tenants must always send notice to their landlords if they have a periodic lease. Here are the requirements:
- Weekly Leases - 10 days of notice.
- Monthly Leases - 30 days of notice.
On the other hand, tenants aren't required by law to send notice in a fixed-term lease.
Tenants have a wide range of delivery options to consider for the written notice letter. However, they should first review the lease terms for any information about the topic. If the lease doesn't say anything, then it's still recommended to ask the landlord.
Some of the most common delivery methods for a notice letter include:
- Serving the notice in person.
- Mailing the notice via certified or registered mail.
Does Tennessee Law Allow Tenants to Break Their Lease Early?
Tenants may only be able to break a lease without any legal consequences if they meet one of the conditions we'll mention below.
Early Termination Clause
An "Early Lease Termination" clause outlines everything the tenant should know if they ever want to move out of the rental unit before the lease expires.
Tenants should always review their lease if there's any language surrounding early terminations, as that will tell them how they can proceed legally.
In some cases, landlords allow their tenants to break a lease in exchange for a penalty. Not complying with the terms in this clause could end up in legal consequences for the tenant.
Uninhabitable Rental Property
Tennessee law has different health and safety codes that landlords must meet if they want to rent their property. If the landlord doesn't make reasonable efforts to provide a habitable unit to their tenant, they may be able to break their lease without any further rent obligation.
Some common landlord duties that Tennessee requests include:
- Making any necessary repairs within a reasonable timeframe.
- Complying with local building and housing codes.
- Keeping all common areas clean and safe.
- Maintaining proper receptacles for removing waste if the landlord has a multi-unit complex of over four units.
Active Military Duty
Tenants who are on active military duty could get protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). If they're getting relocated due to a permanent change of station or deployment, they could avoid paying penalty fees once they move out.
In order to apply for this protection, tenants must prove they signed the lease before entering duty. They must also prove to the landlord that they will remain on active duty for 90 days after sending the notice.
These tenants may only terminate the lease 30 days after the next rent period starts.
The SCRA may protect members and commissioned corps of the:
- Armed Forces
- Activated National Guard
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Public Health Service
Harassment or Privacy Violation
Some tenants may be able to move out of the rental unit without paying penalties if they can prove they're being harassed by their landlord.
Two common scenarios that count as privacy violations or harassment include entering the property without notice and changing the locks.
- Entering the Property - Landlords are suggested to provide at least 24 hours of notice whenever they want to enter the property unless there's a court order or an emergency.
- Changing the Locks - It's illegal for landlords to lock out their tenants, so they cannot change the locks in any way without their consent or permission.
If the landlord repeatedly violates these terms, the tenant may be able to avoid penalties if they try to break the lease.
Other Reasons to Break a Lease Before It Expires
Here's a list of reasons that could also allow tenants to break a lease early, although they may have to get approved by a court first:
- Repeated violations of the lease agreement.
- Using an illegal contract.
- Not providing mandatory disclosures as required by law.
- Not being able to provide reasonable accommodations for people with qualified disabilities.
Moreover, tenants who are victims of domestic violence may also seek protection from the law, although they may have to get the right documentation to support their claims.
Are There Any Unjustifiable Reasons to End a Rental Agreement in Tennessee?
Yes, there are a few reasons that may not be enough on their own to relieve a tenant from their payment duties. Some of the most common ones include:
- Moving to be closer to a friend, family member, or partner.
- Moving in with a partner or close friend.
- Upgrading or downgrading the property.
- Buying a new house.
- Criminal activity around the area.
- Relocating for a new school or job.
- Moving out because of a separation or divorce.
How Can a Landlord Get Compensated When a Tenant Breaks Their Lease Early?
Landlords can enforce penalties by adding an "Early Termination Clause" to the lease agreement. There, they will outline all the consequences the tenant may suffer if they decide to break the initial agreement.
These fees can get used to cover unpaid rent, advertising/renting expenses, and more.
Landlords have different options available to enforce penalties, including:
- Keeping the security deposit.
- Charging the tenant for the owed amount.
- Suing the tenant in a small claims court.
In any case, it's essential to communicate properly with the tenant before signing the lease. This will help avoid any misunderstandings in the future.
Some tenants may decide to negotiate with their landlord to try and get lower penalties, but the outcome of that negotiation will depend on the landlord and the circumstances around the case.
Do Landlords Have a Responsibility to Re-rent Their Property in Tennessee?
Landlords are required by law to make a reasonable effort to find a replacement tenant once the old one decides to move out. The old tenant, in this case, will only be liable for the money the landlord lost when the property was vacant.
It's important to note that if the landlord isn't able to find a replacement, they may still charge the old tenant for the money they're owed.
Finally, landlords may charge their tenants for advertisement or screening expenses.
Can Tenants Sublet the Property to Pay Rent?
Tenants in Tennessee can sublet the property to cover the money they owe to the landlord as long as the lease allows it. If there aren't any "subletting" clauses in the document, then the tenant may ask for the landlord's permission by sending a letter through certified mail.
Landlords, on the other hand, have the right to refuse or approve the request. However, if they're going to refuse it, they can only do it based on legitimate or reasonable factors.
Breaking a lease in Tennessee can be overwhelming if you don't know what to do. However, if you consider all of the information we explained here, you will have a much easier time seeking compensation if your tenant decides to end the rental agreement.
One of the most essential factors when it comes to a lease agreement is communication. If you communicate frequently with your tenant, you will be able to know whenever they're having any issues with the property or the lease, which will allow you to take action soon and prevent them from breaking a lease without penalties.
What Consequences Can Tenants Experience from Breaking a Lease Early in Tennessee?
Tenants who break a lease in Tennessee before it expires can have a wide range of problems in the future.
First, they may have to pay penalty fees if they didn't end the lease for a valid reason. On the other hand, they could get a lower credit score, which may pose some problems whenever they try to rent again or get credit for something else.
Finally, ending a rental agreement early can give the tenant a bad reputation, which is something that will make it harder for them to rent in the future.
How Much Notice Does a Tenant Need to Give Before Ending the Lease?
It depends on the type of lease term the landlord and tenant have. If you have a weekly lease, then your tenant should send a 10-day notice. On the other hand, if you have a monthly lease, the tenant needs to send a 30-day notice.
Tenants aren't required to provide any written notice for a fixed lease term.
Is It Legal for Tenants to Break a Rental Lease Early?
Technically, Tennessee state law allows tenants to break their lease agreement for any reason. However, not following the penalty terms in the agreement can increase their risk of getting sued.
A tenant may be able to legally break a lease and avoid penalties if they communicate with their landlord, send proper notice, and make reasonable efforts to comply with the terms of the lease agreement.
On the other hand, the tenant may be able to break the lease if the landlord is violating the terms in any way, such as doing a rent increase mid-lease when it isn't allowed.
How Can Landlords Prevent a Tenant from Breaking Their Lease?
The best way to prevent a tenant to move out of the rental property before the lease term expires is to include a detailed "Early Termination Clause" that explains all the consequences of those actions.
Moreover, it's a great idea for a landlord to communicate constantly with their tenant to confirm that all their needs are met. If the tenant is happy, they will be more likely to stay or send proper notice if they ever need to move out.
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- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) | United States Courts