Commercial Tenant’s Rights and Duties

The rights and duties of a tenant will vary according to the terms of the commercial lease involved. In the absence of any provisions to the contrary in the lease agreement, a commercial property tenant in Tennessee has the right to exclusive use of the leased premises. This means that only the tenant has the right to use the leased premises and may do so to the exclusion of all others, including the landlord. The exclusive use rule is often modified by the terms of the written lease agreement which allow the landlord, or lessor, to enter or go upon the leased property for certain specifically identified reasons, such as to make repairs or to inspect the condition of the property.

A tenant of commercial property also has the right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property it has leased. “Quiet enjoyment” is a legal concept which, in practice, protects a tenant from a potentially expansive range of interferences. A landlord may breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment, which every tenant to a commercial lease in Tennessee enjoys by operation of law, by allowing other nearby or adjacent tenants to create nuisances; allowing common areas to fall into disrepair; or by failing to make repairs to the tenant’s premises where the lease requires the landlord to do so.

A tenant may recover money damages for a landlord’s breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. If the interference with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment is severe enough, the tenant may be considered by a court to be constructively evicted. “Constructive eviction” is an important concept in commercial lease cases. A tenant who proves it was constructively evicted will, generally, be released from its obligations under the lease, including the obligation to pay the lease payments due under the remaining term of the lease. Bear in mind that a tenant must have vacated the leased property in order to be able to rely on the doctrine of constructive eviction.

Generally, if a landlord’s failure to make repairs or perform maintenance renders the leased premises unusable or uninhabitable, a tenant does not have the right either to withhold rent or to fail to do what it agreed to do under the lease. In such a case, the tenant may pay for the repairs or maintenance and seek reimbursement from the landlord. If you are a tenant facing a landlord which has not made agreed upon repairs or performed agreed upon maintenance, you should not withhold rent or fail to do anything else you agreed to do in the lease until you have sought the advice of an experienced commercial lease law firm. In some cases, a landlord’s failure to provide a service to a tenant, such as security for the premises, if considered an essential term of the lease, may result in a constructive eviction.