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Landlord transparency becomes law in Tennessee

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at 8:05 am

From Staff Reports

The Tennessee State Assembly passed amended versions of House Bill 1814 and Senate Bill 1694 in the final days of the 2024 legislative session, providing additional protections to renters.

Now, landlords must provide all tenants with contact information, including a phone number, for emergency maintenance needs.

Several thousand renters who were not provided a way to reach maintenance for emergencies will benefit from the new law, which was sponsored by sponsored by Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) and Representative Dwayne Thompson (D-Cordova).

Out-of-state investment firms are purchasing a number of rental housing, according to a recent press release.

In 2022 and 2023, investment companies purchased 29% of all rental properties on the market.

The press release states, “These absentee landlords have a particularly bad reputation for being difficult to contact, ignoring maintenance problems, and going months without a maintenance person available. When a pipe bursts in the middle of the night, many renters are forced to figure out on their own how to respond.”

Although landlords are legally required to maintain safe housing and fix safety hazards, many renters report that in the absence of landlord-provided emergency maintenance, they have to either fix the problem themselves or pay out of pocket for a professional to do it. Given lax tenant rights laws, it is common for renters to never be reimbursed for the expense.

Nicole Smith, a tenant in Shelbyville, explains, “Property management always seems in a hurry when it comes to handing out lease violations for damages or posting notices regarding past due balances that aren’t owed, but when we as residents need a repair, emergency or otherwise, it’s met with what seems like irritation and inconvenience.

“We have residents left waiting days, weeks, or months with no AC in the summer or heat in the winter. We have residents with leaks in their ceilings and faulty electrical work. The trash piles up for weeks. The lack of maintenance really begins to create health and safety hazards not just for residents, but the community as well.”

Tristan Call, an organizer with the renter advocacy group, the Bedford County Listening Project (BCLP), said this transparency bill is only a win if it’s enforced.

“What we’re going to try to make sure is that tenants enforce it with their landlord,” he told The Post. “It is really important. If someone has a broken water pipe or a leaky roof, the most basic thing you should do is tell the person who owns the building so that it can be addressed.

“We’re certainly going to go around town with the 10,000 renters in Shelbyville and say, ‘Does everybody have this?’”

Though many tenants may find victory in this transparency bill, it comes in the context of HB 2267 and SB 1985 passing the state assembly.

If signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee, tenants’ right to delay their eviction cases will change from 15 days to only seven.

The delay, referred to as a continuance, provides tenants a small window of time to pay what they owe, find a new place to live, or settle with the landlord. The reduction of time could make it more difficult for tenants to secure a lawyer and find a solution other than eviction.

“It’s super disappointing to see,” said Call.

But in Bedford County’s case, Call said he rarely sees the court allow for a continuance in the first place.

“If you go to eviction court every Wednesday, the judge never gives a continuance, pretty much ever,” said Call. “In the hundreds of cases we watch, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the judge give someone a continuance.”

Call said if the landlord asks for a continuance, then it is generally granted. For him, as well as those with BCLP, they say it shows how the courts are “stacked” against tenants.

A survey conducted by BCLP asked nearly 400 local renters from 2019 to 2023.  They reported that 84% of renters had trouble finding safe, affordable housing in Bedford County.

This is amid rising rent and home prices. According to the BCLP study, the average rent in 2022 was $715. By 2023, it went up to $935.

A press release from Jack Willey from TN4SafeHomes contributed to this article.