Tennessee Foreclosure Laws and Procedures

Learn how a Tennessee foreclosure works, including preforeclosure steps, foreclosure procedures, and homeowners’ rights under both state and federal laws.

Before the foreclosure crisis, which peaked in 2010, federal and state laws regulating mortgage servicers and foreclosure procedures were relatively limited and tended to favor foreclosing lenders. Now, however, federal and state laws heavily regulate loan servicing and foreclosure processes. And most of the laws give protections to borrowers.

Servicers generally have to provide borrowers with loss mitigation opportunities, account for each foreclosure step, and strictly comply with foreclosure laws. Also, most people who take out a loan to buy a residential property in Tennessee sign a promissory note and deed of trust. These documents give homeowners some contractual rights in addition to federal and state legal protections.

In a Tennessee foreclosure, you'll most likely get the right to:

  • a preforeclosure breach letter
  • apply for loss mitigation
  • receive a foreclosure notice
  • get current on the loan and stop the foreclosure sale
  • receive special protections if you're in the military
  • pay off the loan to prevent a sale
  • file for bankruptcy, and
  • get any excess money after a foreclosure sale.

So, don't get caught off guard if you're a Tennessee homeowner who's behind in mortgage payments. Learn about each step in a Tennessee foreclosure, from missing your first payment to a foreclosure sale. Once you understand the process, you can make the most of your situation and, hopefully, work out a way to save your home or at least get through the process with as little anxiety as possible.

What Is Preforeclosure?

The period after you fall behind in payments, but before a foreclosure officially starts, is generally called the "preforeclosure" stage. (Sometimes, people refer to the period before a foreclosure sale actually happens as "preforeclosure," too.) During this time, the servicer can charge you various fees, like late charges and inspection fees, and, in most cases, must inform you about ways to avoid foreclosure and send you a preforeclosure notice called a "breach letter."

Fees the Servicer Can Charge During Preforeclosure

If you miss a payment, most loans include a grace period of, say, ten or fifteen days, after which time the servicer will assess a late fee. Each month you miss a payment, the servicer will charge this fee. To find out the late charge amount and grace period for your loan, look at the promissory note you signed. You can also find this information on your monthly mortgage statement.

Also, many Tennessee deeds of trust allow the lender (or the current loan holder, referred to as the "lender" in this article) to take necessary steps to protect its interest in the property. Property inspections are performed to ensure that the home is occupied and appropriately maintained. Inspections, which are generally drive-by, are usually ordered automatically once the loan goes into default and typically cost around $10 or $15.

Other types of fees the servicer might charge include those for broker's price opinions, which are like appraisals, and property preservation costs, such as for yard maintenance or winterizing an abandoned home.

Federal Mortgage Servicing Laws and Foreclosure Protections

Under federal mortgage servicing laws, the servicer must contact, or attempt to contact, you by phone to discuss loss mitigation options, like a loan modification, forbearance, or repayment plan, no later than 36 days after you miss a payment and again within 36 days after each following delinquency. No later than 45 days after missing a payment, the servicer has to inform you in writing about loss mitigation options that might be available and appoint personnel to help you try to work out a way to avoid foreclosure. A few exceptions are in place for some of these requirements, though, like if you've filed bankruptcy or asked the servicer not to contact you pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.39, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.40).

Federal mortgage servicing laws also prohibit dual tracking (pursuing a foreclosure while a complete loss mitigation application is pending).

What Is a Breach Letter?

Many Tennessee deeds of trust have a provision that requires the lender to send a notice, commonly called a "breach letter," informing you that the loan is in default before the lender can accelerate the loan. The breach letter gives you a chance to cure the default and avoid foreclosure.

When Can Foreclosure Start?

Under federal law, the servicer usually can't officially begin a foreclosure until you're more than 120 days past due on payments, subject to a few exceptions. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.41). This 120-day period provides most homeowners with ample opportunity to submit a loss mitigation application to the servicer.

What Is the Foreclosure Process in Tennessee?

If you default on your mortgage payments in Tennessee, the lender may foreclose using a judicial or nonjudicial method.

How Judicial Foreclosures Work

A judicial foreclosure begins when the lender files a lawsuit asking a court for an order allowing a foreclosure sale. If you don't respond with a written answer, the lender will automatically win the case. But if you choose to defend the foreclosure lawsuit, the court will review the evidence and determine the winner. If the lender wins, the judge will enter a judgment and order your home sold at auction.

How Nonjudicial Foreclosures Work

If the lender chooses a nonjudicial foreclosure, it must complete the out-of-court procedures described in the state statutes. After completing the required steps, the lender can sell the home at a foreclosure sale. Most lenders opt to use the nonjudicial process because it's quicker and cheaper than litigating the matter in court.

Which Is the Most Common Foreclosure Process in Tennessee?

Again, most residential foreclosures in Tennessee are nonjudicial. Here's how the process works.

The lender must either publish notice of the foreclosure sale in a newspaper at least 20 days before sale or post notice in several public places 30 days before the sale if the county doesn't have a newspaper. (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 35-5-101 to 35-5-103). The lender also has to mail you (the borrower) a copy of the notice of sale on or before the first publication date. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-101). Then, the lender holds a foreclosure sale.

The sale is an auction, which is open to the public. At the sale, the lender usually makes a credit bid. The lender can bid up to the total amount owed, including fees and costs, or it may bid less. In some states, including Tennessee, when the lender is the high bidder at the sale but bids less than the total debt, it can get a deficiency judgment against the borrower (see below). If the lender is the highest bidder, the property becomes what's called "Real Estate Owned" (REO).

But if a bidder, say a third party, is the highest bidder and offers more than you owe, and the sale results in excess proceeds—that is, money over and above what's needed to pay off all the liens on your property—you're entitled to that surplus money.

How Can I Stop a Foreclosure in Tennessee?

A few potential ways to stop a foreclosure include reinstating the loan, redeeming the property before the sale, or filing for bankruptcy. (Of course, if you're able to work out a loss mitigation option, like a loan modification, that will also stop a foreclosure.)

Reinstating the Loan

Tennessee law doesn't provide a statutory right to reinstate the loan before the sale, except for high-cost home loans. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 45-20-104).

But many deeds of trust, like the uniform Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Deed of Trust, provide the borrower the right to cure the default after acceleration and reinstate the loan. Check your loan documents to find out if you get a reinstatement right and, if so, the deadline to complete one.

Redeeming the Property Before the Sale

One way to stop a foreclosure is by "redeeming" the property. To redeem, you have to pay off the full amount of the loan before the foreclosure sale.

Some states also provide foreclosed borrowers with a redemption period after the foreclosure sale, during which they can buy back the home. In Tennessee, the borrower gets two years after the foreclosure to redeem the property unless the mortgage or deed of trust expressly waives the right of redemption, which these documents frequently do. (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 66-8-101 through 66-8-103). Check your loan documents to find out if you waived your redemption rights when you took out the loan.

Filing for Bankruptcy

If you're facing a foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy might help. In fact, if a foreclosure sale is scheduled to occur in the next day or so, the best way to stop the sale immediately is by filing for bankruptcy. Once you file for bankruptcy, something called an "automatic stay" goes into effect. The stay functions as an injunction, which prohibits the lender from foreclosing on your home or otherwise trying to collect its debt, at least temporarily.

In many cases, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can delay the foreclosure by a matter of months. Or, if you want to save your home, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be the answer. To find out about the options available to you, speak with a local bankruptcy attorney.

Tennessee Deficiency Judgment Laws

In a foreclosure, the borrower's total mortgage debt frequently exceeds the foreclosure sale price. The difference between the total debt and the sale price is called a "deficiency." For example, say the total debt owed is $300,000, but the home sells for $250,000 at the foreclosure sale. The deficiency is $50,000. In some states, the lender can seek a personal judgment against the debtor to recover the deficiency. Generally, once the lender gets a deficiency judgment, the lender may collect this amount—in our example, $50,000—from the borrower.

In Tennessee, the foreclosing lender can file a lawsuit after the nonjudicial foreclosure to get a deficiency judgment. The deficiency amount may be limited to the difference between the outstanding debt and the property's fair market value at the time of the sale if the borrower shows that the sale price was materially less than the property's value. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-118).

Where to Find Your State's Statutes and More Foreclosure Resources

In this article, you'll find details on foreclosure laws in Tennessee, with citations to statutes so you can learn more. Statutes change, so checking them is always a good idea.

How to Find Federal Foreclosure Laws

If you're looking for federal laws, you might want to visit the Library of Congress's legal research website, which provides links to federal regulations and federal statutes.

How to Find State Foreclosure Laws

To find Tennessee's laws, search online for "Tennessee statutes" or "Tennessee laws." Make sure you're reading the most recent, official laws. Usually, the URL will end in ".gov" or the statutes will be on an official state legislature webpage. Also, LexisNexis provides free access to the Tennessee Code.

More Foreclosure Resources

For more information on federal mortgage servicing laws, as well as foreclosure relief options, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.

Although the programs under the Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative have expired, the MHA website still contains useful information for homeowners facing foreclosure.

Getting Help

How courts and agencies interpret and apply laws can change. And some rules can even vary within a state. These are just some of the reasons to consider consulting a lawyer if you're facing a foreclosure. If you have questions about Tennessee's foreclosure process or want to learn about potential defenses to a foreclosure and possibly fight the foreclosure in court, consider talking to a foreclosure attorney.

It's also a good idea to talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor if you want to learn about different loss mitigation options. You can use the CFPB's Find a Counselor tool to get a list of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies in your area. You can also call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HOPE) Hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

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