Tennessee Eviction Process
November 15, 2023
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Eviction In Tennessee
If you own and rent properties in the state of Tennessee, you are responsible for complying with Tennessee law on eviction. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s eviction laws can be found at TN Code § 29-18.
Eviction Process in Tennessee
- Landlord serves an eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Sheriff serves the writ and forcibly removes the tenant
Note: In Tennessee, the eviction laws that apply depend on the population of the county. The Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) (Title 66 Chapter 28 of the Tennessee Code) applies in counties with a population over 75,000 (currently, these counties are: Anderson, Blount, Bradley, Davidson, Greene, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Sulivan, Sumner, Washington, Williamson, and Wilson). For all other counties, the Tennessee Code regulates evictions.
This article will primarily focus on the URLTA eviction process, but be sure to review the Tennessee Code regulations if your rental units are in a county with a population less than 75,000.
1. Landlord Serves an Eviction Notice
The first step in the eviction process is to serve a Tennessee notice to quit and state that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy or cure the violation. There are many possible eviction notices a landlord might send in Tennessee depending on whether the county is subject to URLTA or the Tennessee Code.
URLTA Eviction Notices (Counties with population > 75,000)
- Rent Demand Notice: 14 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than 14 days after receipt of the notice) (URLTA, § 66-28-505(a)(1-2)).
- Notice for Lease Violation: 14 days to quit. If a tenant violates any other lease provisions, the landlord may send this notice giving the tenant 14 days to vacate the unit. The landlord may choose to offer the tenant an opportunity to cure the breach, but if the violation is not remediable by repairs or payment of damages, the landlord is not required to provide a cure remedy (URLTA, § 66-28-505(a)(1-2)).
- Notice for Repeat Violation: 7 days to quit. If a tenant commits substantially the same noncompliance within six months, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement after giving 7 days’ written notice specifying the breach and lease end date. The landlord is not obligated to give the tenant a second chance to cure the breach (URLTA, § 66-28-505(a)(2)(B)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 3 days to quit. If the tenant commits a severe violation, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement after sending three days’ notice. Possible violations warranting this notice include the following under URLTA, § 66-28-517(a-f):
- Willfully or intentionally committing a violent act
- Behaving in a way that is or threatens to be a real and present danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the life or property of others
- Creating a hazardous or unsanitary condition on the property that affects the health, safety, or welfare of others
- Refusing to vacate the premises after entering as an unauthorized subtenant or other unauthorized occupant.
Tennessee Code Eviction Notices (Counties with population < 75,000)
- Rent Demand Notice: 14 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than 14 days after receipt of the notice). The landlord is required to provide an opportunity to cure the breach by paying rent (TN Code § 66-7-109(a)).
- Notice for Damage Beyond Normal Wear and Tear: 14 days to cure or quit. If a tenant causes damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord may deliver this notice stating the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate (not less than 14 days after receipt of the notice). If the damage is remediable by repairs or payment of damages, the landlord must give the tenant an opportunity to do so to avoid eviction (TN Code § 66-7-109(a)(1-2)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit (Violence): 14 days to quit. If the tenant or tenant’s guest willfully or intentionally commits a violent act on the premises or creates/threatens a real and present danger to the health, safety, or welfare of others’ lives or property, the landlord may send this notice providing the tenant 14 days to vacate the unit. The landlord is not obligated to provide any opportunity to cure or fix the breach (TN Code § 66-7-109(a)(1)).
- Notice for Other Lease Violations: 30 days to quit. If a tenant violates any other lease provisions, the landlord may send this notice giving the tenant 30 days to vacate the unit. The landlord is not obligated to give the tenant an opportunity to correct the breach (TN Code § 66-7-109(b)).
- Notice for Repeat Violation: 14 days to quit. If a tenant commits substantially the same noncompliance within six months, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement after giving 14 days’ written notice specifying the breach and lease end date. The landlord is not obligated to give the tenant a second chance to cure the breach (TN Code § 66-7-109(a)(2)).
- Notice for Unauthorized Subtenant/Occupant: 3 days to quit. If a tenant allows a subtenant or other occupant to move in without the landlord’s permission, and that person refuses to vacate the premises, the landlord may send this notice providing three days to quit the unit (TN Code § 66-7-109(f)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 3 days to quit. For non-URLTA-regulated counties and in certain other circumstances (e.g., tenancies in a housing authority), the landlord may send a three-day unconditional eviction notice for severe noncompliance. Such noncompliance includes the following under TN Code § 66-7-109(d):
- Committing a violent act
- Engaging in drug-related criminal activity
- Behaving in a manner that constitutes or threatens to be a real and present danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the life or property of others
Note that week-to-week tenancies in Tennessee may be terminated via a 7-day quit notice, regardless of the reason.
For all evictions, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
If the tenant does not cure the breach within the notice period (or if the breach is uncurable and the notice period expires), the next step is to file an eviction complaint in court (this is also known as a forcible entry and detainer action, or the eviction lawsuit). Forcible entry and detainer cases may be tried before any judge of the court of general sessions in the county where the property is located (TN Code § 29-18-107). Eviction cases may also be started in Tennessee Circuit Court, but the landlord will need to give bond and security to account for costs and damages (TN Code § 29-18-108).
3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
After the complaint is filed, a single general sessions judge will issue a summons. According to Tennessee law, this summons is known as a “warrant.” The warrant commands the sheriff of the county to summon the tenant to appear before the court on a specific date and time for the eviction hearing (TN Code § 29-18-112)
According to Tennessee eviction laws, the warrant should be served to the tenant with a copy of the complaint by the sheriff or any constable of the county. It can be served to any adult found on the premises. If the tenant cannot be personally served after the sheriff tries on three different dates, the sheriff should do the following at least six days before the hearing date:
- Post a copy of the warrant or summons on the front door of the premises.
- Send a copy of it by USPS first class mail to the rental unit.
- Make an entry of this action on the face of the warrant.
In some cases, personal service after a first attempt is not required. If the tenant:
- is a nonresident of the state,
- abandoned the unit,
- does not live in the county,
- has no known name, or
- is a domestic corporation that has ceased with no known representatives,
the landlord should instead simply post a copy of the summons and complaint on the front door of the rental unit at least 15 days before the date of the hearing (TN Code § 29-18-115)(a)).
The cost to have the sheriff serve the summons is $40 if in person and $10 if by mail. In lieu of having the sheriff serve the summons, the landlord can also opt to serve it themselves or have their attorney/agent do it. In this case, the landlord (or attorney or agent) should lodge the original summons and a copy certified with the clerk with the sheriff of the county, who will send a copy via certified mail to the tenant (TN Code § 29-18-115)(b)).
After service is made in all methods, the original process, an affidavit of the appropriate sheriff or constable, and the return receipt signed by the tenant should be attached together and filed with the clerk of the court of general sessions (TN Code § 29-18-115)(d)).
4. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
As mentioned above, the eviction hearing will be held no less than six days from the date the summons was served (TN Code § 29-18-117). It can be postponed up to 15 days at the request of either party, but only if the judge determines there is good reason for doing so (TN Code § 29-18-118).
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will issue a Writ of Possession (downloadable here) after at least ten days, which authorizes the tenant’s removal from the rental unit (TN Code § 29-18-123, § 29-18-126). Rent, interest, and damages will be assessed by the judge and rendered judgment for as well (TN Code § 29-18-125).
The tenant may choose to file an appeal, but they must do so within the ten-day period before the writ is issued.
5. Sheriff Serves the Writ and Forcibly Removes the Tenant.
A copy of the writ will be sent to the sheriff, ordering them to serve and execute it. Once the sheriff receives the writ, they must remove the tenant immediately—there is no final notice period (beyond the 10-day period after the trial before the writ is issued) (TN Code § 29-18-130(a)). The sheriff will serve the writ to the tenant, and if they still refuse to leave, the sheriff will forcibly remove the tenant from the property.
After an eviction, the landlord should put any abandoned personal belongings in one of the following places:
- On the premises/rental unit
- In an appropriate area clear of the entrance to the premises
- At a reasonable distance from any roadway
After placing the items in a designated area, the landlord cannot move or disturb them for 48 hours. If the tenant has not come to claim them and the property is still there after the two-day period, the landlord can dispose of whatever is left. The landlord is not liable for any damages to the tenant’s property during or after the storage period, unless it can be clearly established that the landlord maliciously caused the damage (TN Code § 29-18-127(b-d)).
Evicting a Squatter in Tennessee
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In Tennessee, there are two circumstances under which a squatter could claim squatter’s rights:
- The squatter occupied the property and paid property taxes for 20 continuous years.
- The squatter occupied the property with color of title for seven years.
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in Tennessee to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in Tennessee, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter an eviction notice as per Tennessee eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
Tennessee Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in Tennessee, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Action||Approximate Cost (General Sessions)||Approximate Cost (Circuit)|
|Issuance of court summons||Varies by county||$6|
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$40 in person; $10 by mail||$40 in person; $10 by mail|
|Each requested continuance||$5||$5|
|Standard post judgment fee||$25||$25|
|Issuance of writ of possession||Varies by county||$6|
|Service of writ of possession||$40||$40|
|Execution of writ of possession||$40||$40|
|Notice of appeal filing fee||$150||$150|
|Average locksmith fees||$160||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies||Varies|
Tennessee Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the eviction process in Tennessee. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||3-30 days|
|Service of warrant/summons||6-15 days before the court hearing|
|Maximum continuance||15 days|
|Eviction hearing||At least 6 days after service of summons|
|Issuance of writ of restitution||10 days|
|Time to quit after writ is posted||Immediate|
- Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure – This site has the specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in Tennessee.
- Tennessee General Sessions Civil Filing Fees – This page lists the various court costs and fees for the Tennessee General Sessions Court.
- Tenant Eviction Guide for URLTA-regulated counties – A pdf guide to the eviction process for tenants in URLTA-regulated counties, written in clear and plain language.
- Tenant Eviction Guide for non-URLTA-regulated counties – A pdf guide to the eviction process for tenants in all other counties, written in clear and plain language.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and Tennessee laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.