Reading and Understanding Leases

August 14, 2014 | Kate Horrell

We military families move a lot.  That means lots of different houses, and lots of different lease agreements.  Whenever you are in a house that you don’t own, you should have a lease agreement of some sort.  And lease agreements can be confusing!

It is vitally important that you understand everything that is in a lease agreement that you sign, whether you are the landlord or the tenant.  The lease agreement sets out all the rights and responsibilities of each party.  It sets the stage for the entire landlord (or property manager)-tenant relationship.  It can also make things very unpleasant for either party if the lease is unclear or puts inappropriate rights or responsibilities on either party.

So, what should you do?  Mainly, never sign a lease without reading and understanding it thoroughly.  If there are any terms that are unclear, get professional help.  Most leases do contain confusing terms, either because it is written to conform to a particular state or federal law, or because the concept is complicated.   The legal office on base would be glad to go over the lease with you.  Lawyers are trained to read and understand technical stuff – that is most of their job.  You can also ask the base housing office or a savvy friend for help, but you’re going to get the most accurate information from the legal office.

Also, don’t forget that lease agreements aren’t written in stone.  Negotiate for the terms that you want.  This could include the rental amount, the things that are or are not included (utilities, certain services such as landscaping), who is responsible for which repairs (big and small, cosmetic or health and safety?), and end-of-term requirements such as cleaning.  If you see something in your lease that you don’t like, ask to have it changed.  If something is not in the lease, but you would like it to be included, ask.  The worst thing that will happen is that the other party will say no.

Lastly, be sure that any lease includes a military clause permitting termination of the lease if the service member receives PCS orders.  All service members are protected under the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA), but it helps to have that clause included in the lease, as well.

Housing is the single largest expense for most families, and your lease agreement is one of the keys to keeping those expenses right where you’ve planned them.  Make sure you understand it so that there are no surprises.