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Healthy Homes / Renters

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Renters


How is renting different from home ownership?

Renting is different from home ownership in that the renter must rely on someone else to make repairs. The renter may not be able to make changes to the home without permission. A renter has both rights and responsibilities. Renting can be a good option for many people to maintain a healthy home environment, both indoors and outdoors. Whether you rent a house, apartment, duplex, mobile home or cabin you can keep the seven healthy homes principles. Remember that good health begins at home.

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What are my responsibilities as a renter?

Renters are responsible for cleanliness and safety. You may rent without any formal agreement, or you may have a lease agreement. The most common type of renter in Tennessee is a renter who signs a lease agreement to pay rent each month throughout the year. Renters may be asked to provide a security deposit. Lease agreements are legally binding contracts. You are responsible for following the terms of your lease. Some lease agreements have addendums such as pet policies, pest control contracts or for reporting water damage. You are responsible for: paying your rent on time, paying any late fees, keeping the place clean and safe, not letting anyone else damage it, not breaking the law, disposing of your garbage, and following your landlord’s rules. If you break your lease, then it may become a legal issue.

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What can I do to keep my rental home a healthy home?

There are seven basic principles to maintaining a healthy home.

  1. Keep it Dry. - Damp homes provide a good environment for mites, roaches, rodents and molds.
  2. Keep it Clean. - Clean homes help reduce pest infestations and exposure to contaminants.
  3. Keep it Pest-Free. - Exposure to mice and cockroaches may increase asthma attacks.  Improper pesticide treatments for pest infestations can worsen health problems, since pesticide residues in homes can pose health risks.
  4. Keep it Safe. - The majority of children’s injuries occur in the home.  Falls are the most frequent cause of residential injuries to children, followed by injuries from objects in the home, burns, and poisonings.
  5. Keep it Contaminant-Free. - Avoid exposure to lead, radon, carbon monoxide, pesticides, asbestos and environmental tobacco smoke.  Keep in mind exposure is often higher indoors.
  6. Keep it Ventilated. - Studies have shown increasing fresh air in a home improves respiratory health.
  7. Keep it Maintained. - Poorly-maintained homes are at risk of being unhealthy.

If you use these principles as a guide, you can maintain a safe and healthy home.   If you are having a problem maintaining any of these principles, other parts of this website will have information and resources to help you.

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What if I have an unhealthy condition in my rental home?

If you have an unhealthy condition in your rental home, then it may be your responsibility to fix the problem or it may be your landlord’s responsibility to make repairs. Read your rental lease agreement. Comply with any requirements for cleanliness or safety. Report any needed repairs to the landlord as they arise. Putting your concerns in writing is best. This creates a record of your concerns. Repairs to your rental home should be made in a reasonable amount of time. The amount of time may be listed in your lease.

If your landlord has not made repairs in a reasonable amount of time, you may need to communicate more directly, such as with additional written complaints or a face-to-face meeting. If your landlord continues to neglect your concerns, you may need to pursue legal action.

Disputes between a landlord and a tenant are civil issues. Most landlord and tenant concerns are outside of the authority of the Health Department. These concerns would be ruled on by a civil court judge interpreting the law. There are some programs that support renters.

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What does the landlord tenant act say?

Tennessee Code Annotated Title 66 Chapter 28 contains the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.  It states the landlord shall:

  1. Comply with requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially
    affecting health and safety;
  2. Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises
    in a fit and habitable condition;
  3. Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition; and
  4. In multi-unit complexes of four (4) or more units, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish and other waste from common points of collection subject to § 66-28-401(3).

By statue, the Landlord Tenant Act only applies in counties that have a population greater than 68,000.   These counties are: Anderson, Blount, Bradley, Davidson, Greene, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Maury, Montgomery, Putnam, Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Sullivan, Sumner, Washington, Williamson, or Wilson.  Tenants in these counties can file a complaint with the Tennessee Consumer Affairs Division.  Filing a complaint does not result in a home visit.  Consumer Affairs will attempt the contact the landlord to help mediate the situation.  If the landlord agrees to mediation, then mediation can occur.  If a landlord does not agree to mediation, then legal action is the standard response.

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What are my rights as a renter?

According to the Legal Aid Society, as a renter you have the right to a livable place and to live peacefully.  Your rights as a renter may vary depending on which county you live in.  The Legal Aid Society has a useful fact sheet to help you understand your rights as a renter.  How to contact the Legal Aid Society is listed below.

If your rental home needs an emergency repair to keep it healthy, such as a repair of the heat, gas, lights, water, sewage, plumbing or air conditioning, you should alert your landlord.  In some counties you can use some of your rent money to make these immediate repairs.  If the problem was your fault, you may have to help pay for the repairs.

You cannot be forced out of your rental home.  You cannot be evicted without notice.  The landlord cannot change the locks or shut off your utilities to make you leave.  Most of the time, a landlord needs to go to court before evicting you.  If you did something dangerous or threatening, the landlord only needs to give you three (3) days to move out.  If you did not pay rent or broke your lease agreement, you may be given a thirty (30) day notice to move out.   If you have legal questions about housing, you should consult with an attorney or legal services.

If you qualify based on income or assistance status, the Legal Aid Society may be able to help.  Contact the office near you for more information.

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands – 1-800-238-1443
Offices in Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro,
Nashville, Oak Ridge, and Tullahoma

Legal Aid Society of East Tennessee –  1-865-637-0484
Offices in Knoxville, Johnson City, Chattanooga, and Cleveland

West Tennessee Legal Services  1-800-372-8346
Offices in Jackson, Dyersburg, Huntingdon, and Selmer

Memphis Area Legal Services  1-888-207-6386
Offices in Memphis and Covington

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What about Property Maintenance Codes?

Property Maintenance Codes or Building and Safety Codes are minimum property maintenance standards.  Codes can apply to residential or non-residential properties or both.  Codes inspections can occur at any time, though they are most common with new construction or renovation.  Building Codes help to ensure safety within a building.  It is important to have buildings up to code.  Landlords are responsible for meeting Codes.

All metropolitan areas in Tennessee have their own codes departments to enforce Property Maintenance Codes.  Many large county or city governments have codes departments.  Though, many small towns and rural areas do not have any standardized minimum property maintenance codes.  Several codes departments across the state have adopted the International Property Maintenance Code.  Codes inspectors may check electrical, plumbing, gas, zoning, and other physical aspects of a home.  Contact your local codes department for information specific to your location.

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What are the minimum standards for rental housing?

The Tennessee Department of Health is responsible for promulgating rules for minimum health standards for rental housing. These rules are part of Tennessee Code Annotated § 53-5502 in Chapter 1200-1-2. The rules cover basic equipment and facilities, light and ventilation, temperature, and sanitation.

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Can I make a formal complaint?

If a rental property violates minimum health standards it may be unfit for habitation.  According to Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-111-101, tenants whose rent is $200 or less per week may file a complaint with their local building inspector or county public health department.    Complaints need to be filed in writing with your county health department and a copy must be forwarded by certified mail to the landlord.  A qualifying complaint can result in a home investigation.  This part of the law does not apply to tenants who pay their rent monthly or for a term greater than monthly.  For non-qualifying complaints, other building codes or ordinances that the building inspector is authorized to enforce, may be applicable to residential property rented at higher rates.

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What if I live in government assisted housing?

The federal government assists low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.  Participants find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.  There is an annual Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection procedure to ensure that homes are clean and safe.  Renters with assisted housing, such as Section 8, should start by talking with the office that issued their rental Housing Choice Voucher (HCV).

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency performs contract administration for Section 8 residential issues in 76 counties.  If the property owner or agent is not fulfilling their responsibilities, TDHA may intervene.  For more information, call THDA at 1-800-228-THDA (8432), during normal business hours.  Or visit the THDA Regional Field Office webpage. Local public housing agencies (PHAs) provide services in the other counties.  Some of the local offices are the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Murfreesboro Housing Authority, Memphis Housing Authority, and Knox County Housing Authority.

Renters who receive assistance can contact their local U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office.  Many of HUD’s programs have specific requirements for housing quality.  If your housing is not up to standards, then HUD may intervene to have the landlord make repairs as necessary.  Tennessee’s HUD office contact numbers are:

HUD Knoxville Field Office – (865) 545-4370
Jurisdiction: Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Cumberland, Fentress, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Loudon, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Pickett, Polk, Roane, Rhea, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Sullivan, Unicoi, Union, Washington

HUD Memphis Field Office – (901) 544-3367
Jurisdiction: Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion, Shelby, Tipton, Weakley

HUD Nashville Field Office – (615) 736-5600
Jurisdiction: Bedford, Cannon, Cheatham, Clay, Coffee, Davidson, De Kalb, Dickson, Franklin, Giles, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Macon, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Moore, Overton, Perry, Putnam, Robertson, Rutherford, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren, Wayne, White, Williamson, Wilson

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Does the USDA assist with renters in rural areas?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a rural development program. USDA assists with some 360 multi-family properties in Tennessee. If you have a question about living in USDA-assisted rural housing you can contact your rural development local office.

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Additional resources

TN Department of Health
List of local health departments: health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm

TN Department of Commerce and Insurance
Consumer Affairs Division: tn.gov/consumer

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
HUD in Tennessee:  portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/tennessee
HUD Offices:  www.hud.gov/local/index.cfm?state=tn&topic=offices
Healthy Homes:  portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/healthy_homes

Tennessee Housing Development Agency
Leading Tennessee Home:  www.thda.org

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Rural Development:  www.rurdev.usda.gov/TN

University of Tennessee – City Codes and Charters
www.mtas.tennessee.edu/public/web.nsf/Web/View+Codes

Tennessee Supreme Court
Justice for All:  www.justiceforalltn.com

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