breaking a lease in tennessee

A Tennessee lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant over a rental property. It binds the two parties for a certain period of time, usually one year. During this time, both parties have a responsibility to adhere to its terms and conditions. 

But while most tenants who sign a lease intend to stay for the entire period, some leave the rental unit before it is up, and they break the lease. After all, life happens. Your tenant may have found a new job and needs to move closer to it. They may also have bought a home. Or perhaps, your tenant may be in the military and has received a change of station orders. 

Normally, breaking a lease can lead to several consequences. As a landlord, you can sue your tenant for all the rent due under the lease. You can also withhold your tenant’s security deposit, as stated within the Tennessee code. 

That being said, however, whether or not to impose penalties on your tenant depends on the reason for breaking the lease. Some reasons may be legally justified while others may not be under landlord-tenant laws. It's the tenant's right to leave before the lease term is up in certain conditions. 

But before we address the legally justified reasons for lease-breaking in TN, it’s crucial to first understand the notice termination requirements in the state. 

How to Break a Lease in Tennessee: Required Notices

Tennessee doesn’t require tenants to provide landlords with a notice when ending a fixed-term lease. That’s because the lease is usually clear on when the lease will end. They are, however, required to provide written notice for week-to-week leases and month-to-month leases. Please note, Cory Real Estate Services requires a notice to vacate form be completed 30-60 days from the end of your lease date.

tn home rental contract

To end a week-to-week Tenessee rental agreement, the tenant must provide their landlord with a 10 days’ notice. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-512(a)). To end a month-to-month lease, the tenant must serve their landlord a 30 days’ notice. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-512(b)). The notice must be written. 

Valid Reasons to Break a Lease in TN

Tenants have a handful of scenarios where they can break the lease before the lease term is up without incurring penalties under Tennessee law. The reasons are as follows: 

1. Your tenant uses an early termination clause. 

Do you have an early termination clause in your lease or rental agreement? If so, according to the law, you cannot penalize your tenant for using it. 

A lease termination clause usually allows a tenant to break a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. The penalty fee is oftentimes the equivalent to one month's rent or two month’s rent. 

The landlord may also require that tenants exercising this clause provide them with sufficient notice. For instance, 30 days’ notice prior to moving out. 

2. Your tenant is beginning active military duty. 

Is your tenant a servicemember? If so, then the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects service members who have been relocated due to a deployment. Servicemembers are defined as those belonging to the:

  • Armed forces

  • Activated National Guard

  • Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service

breaking a lease in tn

For tenants to break the lease in accordance with the SCRA, they must do the following first: 

One, the tenant has to show proof that they signed the lease prior to entering active military duty. Two, they must show the landlord proof that they intend to remain in active duty for a period of time that's at least the next ninety days. And three, they must provide the landlord with a written notice accompanied by the deployment letter. 

3. The unit is no longer habitable. 

Your Tennessee tenant may also be legally justified to withhold rent or even break the lease if their rental unit is no longer habitable. Housing codes must be abided by for the lease to remain applicable, as is the law. 

Every state has specific health and safety codes that the landlord must meet per each rental unit. If your rental unit no longer meets them, tenants can move out without further obligations to the lease under Tennessee state law. 

If the landlord fails to provide habitable living conditions, a court would probably rule that they’ve “constructively evicted” their tenant from the rental unit. 

Before moving out of the rental unit, tenants must meet certain specific conditions, however. The conditions are outlined under the laws of (Tenn. Code Ann. § § 66-28-502 and 68-111-104). 

4. You are harassing them or violating their privacy. 

A landlord in Tennessee must not enter rented premises as they please. Under Tennessee state law, a landlord must serve their tenants with 24 hours’ notice prior to entering their dwelling. 

rental lease agreement tennessee

According to the law, if the Tennessee landlord repeatedly enters the rental property without notice, the tenant may sue the landlord for landlord harassment. Other forms of landlord harassment include:

  • Threatening that you’ll report your tenant to credit bureaus, or refusing to provide them positive references to use when looking to live elsewhere. 

  • Deliberately destroying your tenant’s property.

  • Creating a disturbance or nuisance that disrupts peace and quiet.

  • Repeatedly entering the property without a just cause.

  • Refusing to accept or failing to acknowledge receipt of rent payment.

  • Making up or exaggerating notices of improper conduct.

  • Withholding amenities that are promised in the Tenessee lease agreement. 

  • Failing to respond to property maintenance requests.

The aim of landlord harassment is to force the tenant out of the rented premises. They cannot do this legally without following proper eviction protocol in Tennessee. 

Legally Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease in Tennessee

Generally, the following reasons aren’t legally justified reasons to release a tenant from a Tenessee lease agreement. The landlord may release tenants from the rental property lease, but they are not required to do this. Consequently, they don’t provide the tenant with any legal protection against penalties for failing to honor the lease, as stated in the terms of your lease. They must still pay rent, and they must pay rent in full. 

  • They’re moving out because they recently bought a house

  • They’re relocating to live closer to their new workplace or school

  • They’re moving out to downgrade or upgrade

  • They’re moving in with their new partner

  • They’re moving out because of a divorce or a separation

  • They’re moving out to get closer to family and friends

  • They're in a domestic violence situation

Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant

Your Tennessee tenant may still be off the hook for paying all rent due under the lease. That’s because, as a landlord, you must make reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-507 (c)).

If you are successful in finding a new tenant, the outgoing tenant may only need to pay the amount you lost when they moved out early. 

Bottom Line

There you have it. Everything you need to know when your tenant breaks a lease. Do you still need further help? If you do, Cory Real Estate Services can help. We are a one-stop-shop for all your local real estate services in the Clarksville/Ft. Campbell area. 

Posted by Justin Cory on
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