As a landlord near a military installation or renting to military personnel, you will likely experience this situation; a tenant comes to you with military orders and tells you that they need to break their lease under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA). They may give you very short notice and expect to leave the lease without any penalty. As long as those orders are legitimate, they are correct. This may be tough on you as a landlord but that is their right under the law. So what are your rights as a landlord under that law? This article will help you make sense of what steps you can take as a landlord to ensure you are protected and tenants don’t abuse the law.
Military Lease Termination Law
Federal Law, 50 U.S.C App, Section 535 is known as the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This law allows active-duty members to terminate their lease for a permanent change of station (PCS) or for a deployment longer than 90 days.
In order for a tenant to terminate their lease under the SCRA, their name must be on the lease and they must provide written notice and a copy of their orders to the landlord. This must be in writing and cannot be done with oral notification. The landlord may not charge any termination fee or levy any penalty against the service member but any taxes or other obligations under the lease (such as a cleaning fee, pet fee, or the recuperation of damages out of the deposit) are due upon termination.
The effective date of termination will depend on the type of rental. For month to month rentals, the termination is effective 30 days following the first date on which the next rental payment is due after the landlord is notified. This gives the landlord a minimum of 30 days to fill the rental unit. So even if the member notifies the landlord on the 1st of September, the effective termination date of the leave would be October 31. For all other leases, the termination date is effective on the last day of the month following the month the landlord is notified. If the tenant has paid rent in advance past the effective termination date, it must be returned when the lease is terminated.
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Who Is Protected Under The SCRA?
These protections are for “active duty” personnel or personnel called to “active” duty. For reservists or National Guard, this applies from the date they receive a “mobilization order” calling them to active duty. SCRA protections apply to all on “active duty” not just those deployed to a combat zone. For reservists and Guard, the two weeks a year of their annual training counts as “active duty.” The weekend drills or inactive duty for training will not.
Military Clause Lease
As a tenant or renter, it is strongly recommended that they ask to include a military clause in your lease agreement. This clause will put in writing that, should they be called to active duty service or receiving transfer orders, they will be released from your obligations before their normal expiration. Servicemen are highly encouraged to consult your base legal office for assistance in crafting such a clause or for any issues that arise.
Tenant and Landlord Rights
Some landlords may ask their tenants to waive their SCRA rights when signing the lease while they are on active duty. While they are entitled to do this under certain circumstances, it is highly discouraged from doing so. Before signing a waiver of the renter’s rights it is encouraged for them to speak with their base legal office or a private attorney.
Can a service member use a power of attorney to have someone execute their SCRA rights on their behalf?
Yes, according to the American Bar Association. If an active duty member is deployed, for example, and has a valid power of attorney, their legal proxy can demand any and all protections under the SCRA and may break their lease. If the service member is deployed and does not have a power of attorney, they may hire a lawyer to represent them in any civil matter under the SCRA in their absence.
Can Landlords Verify PCS Orders?
Yes and you are encouraged to do so should you have any doubt. Unfortunately, there have been instances of military members using fake military orders to break their lease when it suits them. To verify orders, there should be a unit letterhead at the top and a point of contact number at the bottom which can be contacted to verify. You can also use the base directory and switchboard on the installation to request the contact information of the service members unit and speak to the Public Affairs Officer or administrative section to verify that the orders are legitimate.
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It’s important to keep an open dialogue with your military tenants to keep you informed of their intentions. This will help you anticipate changes in their rental status and prepare you to get your rental properties listed in a timely manner. Be aware that, even though service members may know they are deploying and have informed you, their unit may not be able to get them the written orders until much closer to their effective date. Also, be aware that service members have very little control over where they are sent or when and they are under great stress especially when they have families. A solid working relationship with them will make the process easier on everyone and you may find that service members, with their housing allowance, steady income, and discipline make some of the best rentals you will ever work with.
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