Tenants’ Rights & Evictions in Nashville: Updates & Resources

Special thanks to Kerry Dietz and Zac Oswald with Legal Aid Society of Middle TN & the Cumberlands for the information and resources in this post. They can be reached at kdietz@las.org and zoswald@las.org

As of June 1st, General Sessions courts across TN have re-started eviction proceedings. There are some exceptions under the CARES Act (see below). While the procedures vary from county to county, Davidson County is only seeing a limited number of defendants per day. Cases are being scheduled, and if defendants don’t show up for their court date, judges will likely grant default judgements. If the defendants do show up and the case is contested, they will likely have their cases set for a hearing later this summer, likely in late July or August.

There is currently a backlog of eviction filings that the Sheriff’s Office has refused to serve. Anything filed before the CARES Act (March 27th) is not subject to the moratorium for the properties covered by the CARES Act (see below).

The TN Supreme Court is requiring all landlords to certify that their properties are not covered by the CARES Act at least 10 days before a court hearing. If the landlord doesn’t fill out the certification, the case must be reset until after the certification is filed (plus 10 days).

What Does the CARES Act Say About Evictions?

In short, the CARES Act says that certain landlords cannot start the eviction process for nonpayment of rent cases until after July 25th. Even then, the landlord must give the tenant 30 days’ notice before filing a detainer warrant. Which properties are covered by the CARES Act?

  • Public housing
  • Project-based Section 8 housing 
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit housing 
  • Rural Development housing 
  • Properties subject to the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)
  • Landlords with a federally backed mortgage loan

Tenants and agencies can track if their properties are covered by the CARES Act by visiting here. (The database cannot currently track properties with fewer than 5 units. That means tenants with single family home owners may not find their property on this list. The list is non-exclusive. If a property is on the list, there’s a HIGH probability it’s covered by the CARES Act. If a property is not on the list, there’s still a possibility that the property is covered by the CARES Act. If the property is covered by the CARES Act, then tenants have extra protections against nonpayment of rent evictions. The landlord must wait until after July 25th to give the tenant a Notice to Vacate. Notice must be 30 days. Landlord cannot file court eviction papers (detainer warrant) until after the 30 days’ notice have expired.

What about Hotels?

Once someone has lived in a hotel or motel for more than 30 consecutive days, Legal Aid Society argues that they become a tenant, thanks to the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. That means the eviction process would have to go through the proper legal channels, including a notice being issued. The problem is that most hotel and motel tenants, owners, and staff don’t understand this.

How to Find Legal Information on Tenants’ Rights:

Legal Aid Society of Middle TN & the Cumberlands has created a library of community ed materials related to COVID-19. They’re available at www.las.org. Here are the rental housing specific brochures:

How to Contact Legal Aid Society (LAS) and What Cases To Send:

  • Legal Aid Society can be reached by calling 1-800-238-1443 or 615-244-6610. Their address is 1321 Murfreesboro Pk., Suite 400 Nashville, TN, 37217.
  • Housing Cases Evictions, illegal lockouts, utility shutoffs, etc. Remember, all landlords must go through the court process to forcefully evict their tenants. No exceptions. LAS is seeing an increase in the number of landlords just changing the locks on tenants or throwing their stuff out.
  • Foreclosure Issues Servicing errors, FHA mortgages not following CARES Act rules, threats of foreclosure, foreclosure sales scheduled, and evictions after foreclosure sales.
  • Extended Stay Motel/Hotels – LAS is seeing an uptick in immediate evictions for extended stay residents. It is the position of LAS that the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act applies when a resident at a hotel/motel has stayed at the property for more than 30 consecutive days.
  • Unemployment Compensation Issues – Legal Aid has attorneys working on issues related to unemployment compensation cases right now.
  • Stimulus Check Issues – These are taking every shape and size right now. Just send them.
  • Domestic Violence Issues – Lethality factors have increased dramatically with DV victims in closer/longer proximity to their abuser. If you can get the victim to a place where they can safely contact LAS, please do.
  • Issues with Food Stamps, TANF, WIC, Social Security, Medicare, Tenncare, etc.

What about Utilities?

  • NES is suspending all power disconnections for non-payment until June 30. NES will absorb late fees and credit card fees on behalf of our customers until June 30. Customers in need of an extended payment arrangement are asked to contact Customer Relations by calling (615) 736-6900.
  • Metro Water Services will not assess late fees or disconnect water services to any of our customers through the end of June.
  • Piedmont Natural Gas has significantly decreased natural gas rates for all customers in its Tennessee service territory. The decrease is effective immediately and will be reflected in customers’ March 2020 bills. All disconnections will be suspended until further notice.
  • More information and updates: https://www.asafenashville.org/status-of-nashville-services/

How to Find Help with Rent & Utilities:

Rental, utility, and other assistance is available. See this comprehensive list from United Way that is updated daily: https://www.nashvilleresponsefund.com/individuals (For rental assistance, click “Financial Assistance.”)

A Reminder on the Proper Legal Eviction Process:

  1. Landlord gives notice to tenants that they will be evicted and why. This is usually a letter. PLEASE NOTE: Tenants in most housing in the Nashville area can waive their right to this notice. That means a landlord can jump straight to Step 2.
  2. Landlord files a “detainer warrant.” This paper gets served on the tenant. Service can be in person by handing the detainer warrant paper to the tenant. A detainer warrant can also be served by posting the paper on the tenant’s door and mailing the tenant a copy.
  3. The detainer warrant should give the tenant a court date. During COVID-19, the detainer warrant may not give the tenant a court date.
  4. If a tenant’s detainer warrant does not have a court date, the landlord should send the tenant notice (a letter) when the court date is scheduled.
  5. We don’t know that all landlords will tell tenants about their court dates. Tenants should be vigilant about calling the court clerks on a regular basis after June 1 to ask when their court date is scheduled.
  6. The case is heard in court.
  7. Tenants can ask to have their case continued/reset. This can give tenants extra time to call a lawyer or to raise money/seek other shelter.
  8. Once the case is heard, the judge will decide if the tenant wins/loses. Unless the law changes, COVID-19 alone is not a defense to a nonpayment of rent eviction.
  9. Tenants who lose in court have 10 days to move before their case becomes “final.” (E.g., If the judge says you lose on May 7th, you must move out by no later than May 17th.)
  10. Tenants can appeal their cases within the 10 days. However, if a tenant appeals for nonpayment of rent, they must move out or pay one year’s worth of rent to stay in the property while the appeal is pending. This won’t be feasible for most of the people contacting us.
  11. If the tenants are not out by the end of the 10 days, the landlord can file a “writ” to have the Sheriff come help to force the tenants out. (E.g., on May 18th, the landlord can file to have the Sheriff help move the tenant out.)

For more on Tenants’ Rights, see the resources and booklets available from LAS here: https://las.org/find-help/self-help-resource-center/legal-help-booklets/renters-home-owners/