When can I change the locks?

A landlord's obligation to their tenant does not end when the court grants legal possession of the property. A question that we get asked frequently by property owners is "When can I change the locks?" or "How long does the tenant have to move out?" The answer to that question comes from the appeal period for judgments from Tennessee general sessions court (where the vast majority of detainer/eviction actions are filed). If your eviction was filed in circuit or chancery court for some reason, different time periods apply.

  • Tennessee law allows for a 10 day appeal period from general sessions court judgments. The clock starts ticking the day after the judgment is granted. The tenant is allowed to remain in possession of the premises during this time. Property owners are obligated to allow the tenant peaceful possession of the property. Only once the tenant has completely abandoned the premises and removed all items of personal property can a property owner change the locks.
  • What if the tenant doesn't move out after the 10 day appeal period? Once the ten day appeal period has expired, a property owner must file for a "writ of possession" with the clerk of the court. This document provides law enforcement with the authority to enter and peacefully remove the tenant and their personal property from the premises. Sometimes this may require physically removing the tenant's property from the building and placing it on the curb. Some agencies may require the landlord to have sufficient personnel ready to accomplish this when they serve the writ. Law enforcement agencies have different policies on how to remove personal property from the premises, so it is best to check with the once the writ has been issued. Only after the writ has been served can a property owner change the locks in this situation.

Property owners should become familiar with Tennessee's Landlord Tenant act and the procedures involved with evicting tenants before getting into the business of rental properties. Violations of Tennessee's Landlord Tenant Act can result in montary penalties. When in doubt ... call your attorney!