Tennessee  Land Buyers Guide

Some resources for investigating tax, legal, and environmental issues associated with finding land and building on rural property in Tennessee.  This information is not intended to be legal advice.  Consult an attorney for any questions related to Tennessee land law and regulations.

Tennessee County Property Assessors

The best place to start for information about a specific property or location is at the local county assessor's office.   Each property has an assessed and appraised value.   A specific parcel may also have, for example, requirements that home construction be up to a certain standard.  Land sellers will frequently exclude certain types of mobile homes.  Assessors can also start you on research you need to do about wells or other water resources, sewer and septic tanks, electricity and other utilities, mineral rights, and road building and access.  Property assessment information -- which may include recent sales data -- for individual parcels is available for most counties at the Tennessee Real Estate Assessment Data Site.  The state has added GIS maps and aerial photos to each parcel listing.

Land Surveying

Surveyors in Tennessee must be registered and provide services in accordance with Tennessee Land Surveyors Regulations.  You can review these regulations, look up a license, check complaints, etc. at the Land Surveyor's Board.

Tennessee Code Annotated

If you want to go to the source for any land related law, you can directly search the Tennessee Code Annotated.  Search terms for real estate will yield results for real estate investment trusts, residential property disclosure, real estate broker and appraiser licensing, property liens, condemnation rights, tax lien sales, asbestos removal, open space preservation, land use restrictions (such as for contaminated property), road and utility requirements, and platting regulations.

Seller Disclosure

The Tennessee Residential Property Disclosure Act requires that sellers of residential property provide information about the condition of the property. Information is disclosed in a required form.  As the form warns, "Buyers and Sellers should be aware that any sales agreement executed between the parties will supersede this form as to the terms of sale, property included in the sale and any obligations on the part of the seller to repair items identified below and/or the obligation of the buyer to accept such items 'as is.'"

Zoning and Subdivision Regulations

In Tennessee, the development of raw land is dictated is dictated by local government planning and subdivision regulations.  How a piece of property is developed is partially dictated by its size -- lots or sites divided in parcels less than five acres may trigger regulations related to utiliites, road construction, and other rules not applicable to larger tracts.

An excellent introduction to planning and zoning in the development of these of these regulations has been prepared by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Local Planning Assistance Office.  The PLANNING & ZONING WORKSHOP: SUBDIVISION REGULATIONS & INFRASTRUCTURE guide describes planning and subdivision authority in the state of Tennessee.

Many jurisdictions provide their zoning and subdivision ordinances online.

Septic Systems

Septic systems and other waste disposal methods in areas not served by municipal sewer systems must be permitted by the Tennessee State Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).  The soil in some rural areas do not allow for the installation of standard septic systems.  Suitability is determined by a soil percolation test.  Individuals certified to conduct "perc tests", list of approved soil consultants, and regulations governing septic systems can be found at the beginning with regulations associated with the TDEC Septic System Construction Permit.

Shoreline Construction

Landowners bordering Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lakes are subject to Shoreline Construction Regulations for boat docks, piers, boathouses, fences, steps, shoreline-based shelters, and the like.  A good place to visit before beginning such projects is TVA's Minor Construction Projects site.

Radon

Radon levels are often high in East Tennessee.   Some guidance about indoor radon can be found at the TDEC Tennessee Radon Program.

Realtor Licensing

The Tennessee Real Estate Commission licenses and registers Real Estate Firms, Brokers and Affiliate Brokers. The Commission also enacts rules addressing professional conduct and standards of practice.  Tennessee has no specific laws requiring radon resistant construction techniques.  You can look up a license, file a complaint or browse other real estate consumer information.

Mineral Rights

Extremely important!  Mineral rights may be owned by someone other than the owner of the surface. Mineral rights may be sold or retained separately from the surface rights, in which case the mineral rights are said to be "severed."  Third parties may have leases with the mineral owner to develop and produce minerals. A person may own all of the mineral rights for a parcel or any fraction of the rights. A person may also own rights to only one kind of mineral, such as oil and gas, or to only one formation or depth.   The definition of "mineral" is not completely clear in Tennessee law, but generally includes any oil, gas, coal, and other minerals that may be located below the surface.   All of these resources are exist in Tennessee and are potentially an issue in East Tennessee land ownership.   A Tennessee county property assessor for Hamilton County once estimated that as much as half of the property owners in Tennessee do not own mineral rights for their property, including many residential developers.  Recently, the mining of sandstone, fieldstone and flagstone for landscaping has become an issue in Southeast Tennessee due to the unclear distinction between rock and minerals as applied to exercise of mineral rights.  

In should not be difficult to establish whether mineral rights have been severed on a particular property.  According to Tennessee Code, Mineral owners are required by state law to identify their mineral interests with the property assessor in which the interest is located, along with tax maps, parcel numbers and other references about where the interests are located.  However, there may be cases when the mineral interest has not been properly recorded.   Do not assume that mineral rights are regulated the same in Tennessee as in your state, and consult an attorney versed in Tennessee property law if the matter is unclear on the property you are considering purchasing.   Severed mineral rights are not necessarily a reason to reject a property for consideration, but you should understand fully the potential consequences.    

Other resources

Our East Tennessee Land for Sale Websites page has several links to sites selling Tennessee land, as well as to maps and relocation guides.