Service members can make great tenants. Their rent is usually covered by a basic allowance for housing paid on the first of the month and they tend to be reliable and responsible.
However, there are special federal rent protections which could have an effect on the eviction process and security deposits, and they may present you with other legal challenges. Here is some information about the laws that benefit military service members and what you need to know about them.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
Perhaps the most important law you should be familiar with is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Although the law provides a variety of protections for active-duty and deployed armed forces members, one of the most important elements for you to understand is a condition regarding leases. This stipulation allows any service member to immediately terminate a lease with you if they are deployed or given orders for a permanent change of station move.
This only applies if the service member’s transfer or deployment lasts longer than 90 days. In such circumstances, you may not keep a military member’s security deposit, and you will have no recourse to bring legal action against the military member for breaking the lease agreement. It is important to note that the SCRA also applies to the service member’s family and any dependents.
One way to protect your assets and minimize your risk of losing out on rental income is to keep lease agreements under 12 months and not to offer incentives or rental discounts for tenants to sign longer leases. There is no SCRA penalty for doing this.
Evicting a Military Service Member
The SCRA also provides additional protections for military members in relation to evictions. This means you may not evict a military member from your rental property if your tenant’s military service has had an effect on his or her rent payments.
You may still evict military members, but it may be much more difficult if they can prove their military service has interfered with their ability to pay you on time. Courts may also put a three-month hold on the eviction, regardless of what state you live in. You can check the state laws for additional information here.
Keep in mind that SCRA doesn’t just protect active-duty service members. The law also covers reservists called up for military service and National Guard ordered to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days. Additionally, it also includes commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service.
Exceptions to Every Rule
There are important considerations that every landlord should be aware of in relation to SCRA provisions. For example, service members paying over $3,451 per month on their rental property as of 2016 are not covered by the SCRA. This amount may change depending on the year, as it is designed to reflect cost of living and inflationary changes. Furthermore, this federal law does not cover military reservists and National Guard members on “drilling status.”
There are extenuating circumstances, such as when a National Guard member is deployed to a national emergency, where it has historically been the case that the member will be covered under the SCRA as well.
It is your right as a landlord or property manager to request a copy of any deployment or transfer orders to verify that your tenant is actually being deployed. It is recommended that you do this to ensure your tenant is rightfully covered under the SCRA. Your tenant is required to provide you a copy of their orders upon leaving your property, so make sure everything is being performed according to protocol.
Pursuing a Waiver
You may request that your military tenant waives his or her rights under the SCRA law, but many states have laws similar to the SCRA, and some state laws are even more beneficial for military service members. Some states also forbid landlords from waiving military tenant rights related to the specific state law provisions, so research the military service member laws in your state to be on the safe side.
Ultimately, there are many good reasons to have a military tenant on your property, but you should be aware how the SCRA can affect your landlord-tenant relationship. This will help you better prepare for any complication that may arise while renting to a military member and their family.
What has been your experience renting to service members?