Know your renter rights

Wellness includes so much more than your physical health. As people, we need a safe place to rest and call home. The type of space you live in doesn’t necessarily matter. You could live in an apartment, townhome, house or condo. What’s important to your overall wellness is the way that you feel when you’re at home. You should feel safe, comfortable and like you have a sense of privacy. 

If you rent, how you feel in your home is influenced by your landlord, building owner or property management company. Some landlords are great and provide healthy, affordable and decent rental units to their tenants. Others take advantage of renters. 

It’s important to know that you have rights as a renter that protect your privacy and your home. A healthy rental situation requires your landlord to respect these rights. Understanding your rights and learning how to request fair treatment is an important first step to make you feel comfortable and safe at home. We’ll outline some of your rights as a Tennessee renter below, and will include links to learn about your rights as a renter in Arkansas and Mississippi.  

You have a right to a decent, clean and safe unit.

Your home should be safe, free of noticeable damage and an overall healthy environment. Before you move in, you have the right to visit the property and look for anything that is wrong with your unit. All of the plumbing, electrical, appliances and other materials should work properly. There should not be holes in the walls, ceiling or floor, and you should not feel any of the outside elements when you’re inside the building. All units must have a functioning heater. If you find that your potential rental property doesn’t meet all of these requirements, do not agree to rent the unit until they are repaired. If you still plan to rent the unit, take thorough photos to document what needs to be repaired.

You have a right to request records and documentation.

In the state of Tennessee, a rental agreement does not have to be documented on paper. Agreements can be made verbally between renters and landlords. However, it is always in your best interest to request a written and signed lease that outlines your rental terms. These terms should outline how much you are expected to pay, when your rent payments are due and how long you can rent the unit before you need to renew the lease. In addition to outlining your rental fees, your lease should outline all of the rules you must uphold as a tenant. Understanding these rules upfront and abiding by them will help prevent you from facing eviction, fines or other negative consequences.

Keeping a signed copy of your lease is important for your own protection. Without a written lease, your word is put against your landlord’s if any issues come up. For added security, we also recommend requesting a receipt for each rental payment you make and storing it with your lease. These receipts will allow you to dispute any claims of missed or late payments.

You have a right to privacy.

Your landlord cannot enter your unit unannounced except under the following circumstances:

  • It’s an emergency, like a fire or flood.
  • You are gone for longer than a week and didn’t alert your landlord. 
  • You’re too sick to answer the door or you die in the unit.
  • You go to jail.
  • The gas, lights or water are turned off and it’s your fault (not the landlord’s).
  • The landlord gets permission from a court.

Other important resources:

  • If you live in Shelby County, Tennessee, this document outlines in detail the rights you have as a tenant. 
  • If you are a renter in Arkansas, this government website outlines your rights as a tenant.
  • If you are a renter in Mississippi, this federal government website lists several reliable resources in your state for more information about tenant rights.

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