Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided in this blog is intended for general guidance and should not be considered as a replacement for professional legal advice. It is important to be aware that laws pertaining to property management may change, rendering this information outdated by the time you read it.

What is a lease? A lease is a legally binding contractual agreement that outlines the terms and conditions a landlord and a tenant must abide by. Such as, paying rent for the entire time the lease will be active.

While breaking a lease often results in penalties, Tennessee law allows tenants to break their lease legally in certain situations. In these situations, the tenant will only have to meet the set conditions prior to moving out. The following is everything you need to know about breaking a lease in Tennessee.

Legally Unjustified Reasons for Breaking a Lease

Note all reasons for breaking a lease early come with legal protections. If a tenant breaks their lease for a legally unjustified reason, the law won't protect them and they'll likely have to pay fines. Some of these unfustified reasons for breaking the lease include if they:

  • Bought a new house
  • Are relocating for a new school or job
  • Are upgrading or downgrading
  • Moving in with someone
  • Moving to get closer to the new place of work

lease and key

Legally Justified Reasons for Breaking a Lease

The following are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can break their lease legally and without penalty. But bear in mind that as the landlord, you may have to manage the security deposit after the fact.

Early Termination Clauses

Not all landlords include an early termination clause in their lease agreements. But, for those that do, you should require your tenant meet certain conditions before the lease should break.

One of those conditions is pay an early termination fee. This is normally equivalent of two months rent. Usually, the other condition is that the tenant provide an ample notice prior to moving out. Often, this ranges between a month’s- and two months’ notice. By including these terms landlords can mitigate financial loss and reduce vacancy periods.

Starting Active Military Duty

Servicemembers who start an active military career are under the protection of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The act protects active service members who are either deployed or relocated due to a military assignment. Tennessee defines a “servicemember” as a person who belongs to any of the following branches of the military:

  • Armed forces
  • Activated National Guard
  • Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
  • Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

lease agreement

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a tenant is required to do the following prior to moving out:

  • Provide the landlord with proof showing that they entered active duty prior to signing the lease.
  • Provide the landlord with proof that they intend to remain on active duty for 90 days or more.
  • Accompany a written notice with a copy of the deployment letters from their commanding officer.

Once the tenant has provided this information to their landlord, their lease will still only end 30 days after the next rent period starts.

Habitability Issues

Tennessee requires landlords to provide units that meet certain safety and health standards. The following are some of the responsibilities Tennessee landlords have in providing a habitable premises:

  • Provide working kitchen appliances
  • Ensure that floors are in good condition.
  • Ensure railings and stairs are safe.
  • Provide functioning sanitation facilities.
  • Provide working gas lines.
  • Provide working lighting, wiring, outlets, and plumbing systems.
  • Provide both hot and cold running water.
  • Ensure that there is effective weatherproofing.
  • Provide doors and windows that are in good repair.

If your property fails to meet these standards, your tenant would be considered “constructively evicted.” At that point, they would no longer have to keep up their obligations and may break the lease.

habitability issues

Landlord Harassment

Landlord harassment can occur in many different forms, such as:

  • Withholding amenities that the lease promises the tenant.
  • Exaggerating notices of improper conduct with the goal of evicting them from their rented unit.
  • Refusing to accept or acknowledge payment of rent.
  • Creating unnecessary nuisance that disrupts the tenant’s peace and quiet enjoyment.
  • Threatening a tenant with financial injury, such as reporting them to a credit bureau or refusing to give them positive references to use when searching for another apartment.
  • Verbally abusing or intimidating a tenant.
  • If you have violated the tenant’s privacy or the Fair Housing Act.

Landlord’s Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in Tennessee

Under the landlord-tenant laws, Tennessee landlords have a duty to re-rent the unit left by a tenant who breaks their lease. You must make reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant in order to “mitigate damages.” This way, the tenant will only be responsible for the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Bottom Line

For expert help regarding lease management, Brentwood Square Management Services, Inc. can help. We not only understand the Tennessee landlord-tenant laws, but we can also help you manage your Nashville rental property reliably and efficiently. Get in touch with us to learn more about our property management services!