New Tennessee eviction appeal law could cause hardship for low-income renters, advocates say

Madison home
Posted at 5:01 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 20:44:52-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new Tennessee state law requires renters to come up with a year’s worth of rent to appeal an eviction.

The idea is to protect landlords from being hurt financially due to court proceedings. Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law on April 8, so it applies to current cases. However, some wonder if the law will be challenged.

At their Madison home, Patricia Copeland and her sister can't afford a rent hike while on a fixed income. Their landlord took them to court, and they were told to get out in 10 days.

That's the law, according to Legal Aid Society's Zac Oswald.

"I think what we’re looking at here is situations where potentially the landlord didn’t have the right to evict, the tenant had defense where the person who was evicting the tenant isn’t even the owner of the property, isn’t even the landlord, isn’t even the property manager, but they went ahead and they got their judgment in 30 seconds in General Sessions Court," Oswald said.

If they wanted to appeal their eviction, the new law would require Copeland to come up with one year's worth of rent.

"How is it going to affect low-income people? How is it going to affect people of color? People that we know who have less representation?” Oswald said. “So there are potential fair housing issues here, there are potential equal protection issues here that may be looked at in the future.”

Republican Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville. Both lawmakers took money in the last four years from political action committees that deal with industry, including the Housing Industry PAC, the TN Apartment PAC and the TN Manufactured PAC.

Bell used to be a landlord and shared his experience.

"They left me owing rent, and they left me with about three times the damage to the house than what the deposit covered," Bell said.

That's why he wanted protections in place for property owners. However, Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he believed the law puts a shackle on renters.

"I think this is a really stark barrier that kind of blocks justice from one category of renters," Yarbro said.

Oswald fears it will put people like Copeland out on the streets.

"Being able to stay on the property where you’re renting shouldn’t be like a game show, you shouldn’t have to keep from being homeless in 30 seconds or less, but that’s really what we’ve set up here by making it where tenants who are in General Sessions Court, don’t have the ability to appeal to the Circuit Court unless they’ve got a bank roll of $15,000 in their back pocket," Oswald said.

Farmer declined NewsChannel 5's interview request. Bell didn't respond to the request for comment.

After sharing Patricia's rent struggles, NewsChannel5 viewers stepped up to help. They donated hundreds of dollars to her Go Fund Me.