Supreme Court Clarifies Bond Requirements for Landlord-Tenant Actions

December 19, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that a tenant seeking to appeal a court decision regarding possession of a rental unit is not required to post a bond equal to a year’s rent if that tenant no longer occupies the property.

The case concerns a landlord and tenant arrangement in Nashville. The landlords sought to regain possession of the premises and obtain a judgment for unpaid rent by filing an unlawful detainer warrant in Davidson County General Sessions Court. An unlawful detainer action filed by a landlord seeks to remove a tenant who has failed to abide by the terms of a lease or other agreement giving the tenant possession of the property.

The General Sessions Court granted the landlords’ request for possession and awarded $42,500 in monetary damages for rent and attorney’s fees. The tenants had vacated the property in question the day prior to the court’s decision.

The tenants then appealed the decision to the Circuit Court, posting a $250 cost bond. The landlords sought dismissal of the appeal on the grounds that the tenants were required by law to post bond in an amount equal to one year’s rent. The tenants disagreed, noting they were no longer in possession of the property.

The trial court denied the landlords’ motion to dismiss and the Court of Appeals declined to hear the case. The landlords then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said today that the plain language of the law does not require a tenant who has surrendered possession of the property to post a bond for one year’s rent when the tenant is appealing an unfavorable judgment in an unlawful detainer action based on the tenant’s failure to pay rent. The bond secures funds to cover rent, costs and damages while the tenant remains in possession of the property during the appeal. If the tenant is not in possession, the law makes the bond unnecessary, said the Court in its Opinion.

Read the unanimous opinion in Edith Johnson et al. v. Mark C. Hopkins et al., authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.