Renters in Nashville were educated about their legal rights under state law at an event held Sunday by community group Homes For All Nashville and the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and The Cumberlands.
About 20 people attended “Tenant Rights 101,” an informational session held at the Salama Urban Ministries Center.
Kaneetha Patterson, a member of Homes For All’s steering committee, helped organize the event.
“There is a lot going on where people are getting stiffed – to say the least,” she said. “They have the right to know what their rights are.”
Patterson drew inspiration for the event from her own story, which includes a 14-day eviction from her former apartment in Edgehill. She later learned she should have received 30 days to vacate her home with her five children.
“I knew it didn’t sound right, but I didn’t know what options I had,” she said. “It is the foundation of why I fight and advocate for other people because I don’t want to see them go through what happened to my family.”
Zach Oswald, a LAS attorney focused on rental housing issues and consumer law, shared the rules and rights for renters – including private, Section 8 and those using MDHA vouchers – on topics including leases, late rent and access by the landlord.
“If we can let people know information ahead of time that’s going to prevent them from being evicted, it makes sure there’s a stable housing environment here in Nashville,” Oswald said.
He spent the majority of his one-hour presentation focused on tenants’ rights regarding repairs to rental properties.
Oswald used the word “tricky” when explaining state law on repairs to rentals, but clarified that renters cannot withhold rent because of unfixed repairs. He urged all renters to keep a paper trail of any repair requests that are necessary in a court case, and handed out a paper repair request form that he created.
A lease will outline what a landlord is responsible to repair and pay for, but Oswald stressed that landlords are required to fix emergency repairs defined under state law as lights, heat, gas, water, sewage and plumbing. “These are things where the place just isn’t livable,” he said, noting that air conditioning is not considered an essential service in Tennessee.
A tenant may have the right to terminate a lease for unfixed repairs; Oswald urged renters to contact an attorney before attempting to terminate a lease.
He also spent time clarifying state rules on evictions for private renters and those residing in public housing.
“There’s a falsity across Tennessee that everyone thinks they can get 30 days for an eviction, but that’s not true,” he told the audience. “A 30-day is usually given when the landlord is not going to renew the lease.” He explained that a three-day notice is for anything that threatens the health and safety of others, and requires a letter from the landlord. A 14-day eviction is usually issued if the matter can be corrected within 14 days, sharing the example of a pet in what should be a pet-free rental space.
Oswald clarified that, despite Nashville passing a law to decriminalize marijuana, federal law enables landlords in the city to evict tenants residing in public housing if drugs are found in the residence.
Other advice offered to renters included:
Oswald also encouraged renters in properties with washer and dryer units to have renter’s insurance because renters will be on tap to pay for any damage caused by the unit.
“I’ve had clients be evicted because they couldn’t pay to replace the carpet after the washer flooded (the apartment),” he said.
Joe Sheeran, a renter in Nashville, said the session provided him with a lot of new information. “I didn’t know just how few protections renters had in Tennessee. It’s important for renters in Nashville to know their rights because the law is so very in favor of the landlords,” he said.
“I’m really glad that I came to this training because I feel so much more prepared for whatever might happen,” he added.
Oswald encouraged any renters seeking legal advice to attend a free legal advice clinics hosted by LAS. A schedule is available online: www.las.org/clinics. You can also contact LAS at 615-244-6610.