Information for Knox County residents worried about eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic

Press Release # State

Information for Knox County residents worried about eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic

What are the courts doing about evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Basically, eviction actions are on “hold” right now. On March 25, 2020, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an Order stating that courts may not take any action to evict or otherwise displace a tenant from his/her residence through April 30, 2020

I get public assistance for housing. What else do I need to know? 

If you live in public housing (like KCDC properties) or have federal assistance for your rent (like a Section 8 voucher), there is a temporary moratorium (pause) on the eviction process through July 23, 2020. The moratorium is just for evictions related to nonpayment of rent or fees. Evictions for other things like criminal activity or threats to the safety of other residents are not on pause. Tenants still have to pay rent! The rules that apply to public needs-based housing are complicated, and nonpayment of rent may impact your HUD eligibility. If you fall into this category, you should consult with your housing or voucher provider for more information or contact Legal Aid of East Tennessee for advice. 

I can’t pay my rent this month because I’m furloughed or have been laid off. Do I still have to pay rent?

Yes. Currently, there is no authority that excuses a tenant’s duty to pay rent or any other duties under the rental agreement. Renters are encouraged to reach out to landlords to discuss payment options. For example, it may be helpful to contact your landlord, explain the situation, and see if your landlord will work out a repayment agreement after you go back to work for any rent you owe from April forward.

My landlord is threatening to make me move. Can my landlord do that, even with the courts closed?

No, not right now. The only exception is if you already went to court, and the judge gave possession of your rental unit back to your landlord. Landlords can send tenants a notice to vacate and can file an action in court, but right now, judges cannot rule on eviction actions until May 1, 2020. 

What steps does a landlord have to follow to evict a tenant?

A landlord must follow four clear steps to evict a tenant lawfully under Tennessee law. That’s true even if you violated the rental agreement, even if the lease says something different, and even if the tenant doesn’t have a written lease. A landlord cannot turn off essential services (like power or water), lock a tenant out of the rental unit, remove the front door, or otherwise exclude the tenant from the unit. Generally, the landlord’s steps are (1) send written notice to vacate, (2) file the detainer warrant, (3) attend the hearing in court, and (4) with sheriff’s office, execute the Writ of Possession. 

I have other questions. Where can I go to find answers?

The law which applies to Knox County landlords and tenants begins at Tennessee Code Annotated § 66-28-101 . If you have more questions, you should contact a private attorney or, if you qualify, Legal Aid of East Tennessee. If you want to find a private attorney, you should contact the Knoxville Bar Association or ask Legal Aid of East Tennessee when the next free legal advice clinic will happen. Legal Aid also has a helpful information brochures available here (see “Tenants Rights Under the Uniform Residential”).