Bi1.5Zn1.0Nb1.5O7 (BZN) films were deposited by rf magnetron sputtering on different substrates to systematically vary the film stress due the thermal mismatch between BZN and the substrate. Substrates included Pt/SiO2 covered silicon, vycor glass, magnesium oxide, and sapphire. The BZN film microstructures (orientation, grain size, and roughness) were similar on the different substrates. Measurements of the permittivity and dielectric loss tangent were carried out between 80 and 300 K at frequencies between 10 kHz and 10 MHz. Films that were under a moderate tensile stress showed a low-temperature dielectric relaxation, associated with a dielectric loss peak and drop in permittivity, at ∼100 K. In contrast, the dielectric relaxation was shifted to temperatures below 80 K in films on vycor that were under a large tensile stress. This shift reflected a lowering of the activation energy of the dielectric relaxation processes due to tensile stress. It is expected that films under large tensile stress require higher frequencies than bulk BZN to shift the dielectric relaxation to room temperature, which makes these films attractive for low-loss high-frequency applications. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.