By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

In my law practice, I have represented both tenants and landlords in negotiating contracts and litigating disputes arising from contracts. This week I would like to focus on tips to prevent common mistakes made on the landlord side of a lease transaction.

First, you will need a written rental application. Make sure that all of the information is accurate and complete. Check every reference every time. Get written permission to do a credit check. The application stage is the best chance you will get to find out who is about to take possession of your valuable investment. Know exactly who you are dealing with and assure yourself of how you are going to be paid every month.

Second, you will need a written lease agreement. Do not even consider renting property without a written lease agreement signed by both parties. In these agreements the landlord is typically referred to as the “Lessor,” the one who leases out to another and the tenant is the “Lessee.” Make sure that your residential lease conforms with Tennessee law. I recommend that you have your lease form drafted or at least reviewed by an attorney. Moreover, in many counties including Knox County, you are required to follow the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) found in Tennessee Code Annotated Sections 66-28-101 through 521. You should get a copy of this and try to follow it to the letter. With respect to rent, the URLTA provides a minimum of five-day period between the day the rent was due and the day a late fee may be charged. Late charges are limited under the URLTA and may not exceed ten percent (10%) of the amount of rent past due. Remember, if you end up in court, it will always benefit you to have complied with the laws.

Third, document the condition of the residence. You should take date-stamped photographs that show repairs and maintenance completed on the property. A common defense used by tenants in eviction actions is that the property was in terrible condition when it was rented to them. This, of course, applies to when the tenant has moved out as well. You must be able to show what damage was caused by the tenant and how much it cost to perform repairs to the property. Photographs often provide the proof you need to win your case.

Fourth, you will need to collect a security deposit. The exact amount of this deposit and how it has been collected needs to be written into your lease agreement. The deposit money must be held in a separate account just for that purpose because it still belongs to the tenant until the lease ends or is breached. Also, the name of the bank where it is held and the account number must be disclosed in your lease agreement.

Obviously, this article does not cover every issue which might arise. Contact an attorney to get advice and assistance with your unique situation.

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, evictions, probate, collections and general civil matters. She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.