Several recent letters pointed out the confusion about residential leases, military clauses, and the protections offered under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA is a fairly broad document that provides a variety of protections to military service members including postponement of court proceedings, interest rate reductions, stay of evictions, and ability to terminate residential leases under a variety of situation.
Today, I am focusing on the rights and responsibilities of the service member and landlord when breaking a lease using the SCRA. Unfortunately, confusion makes it easy for either party to not fulfill their responsibilities under the Act, whether by accident or with malicious intent. When the SCRA is used incorrectly, it can cause financial damage and/or bad feelings on either side. Using the SCRA correctly provides equal protections to both parties and prevents the bad feelings that can sometimes make landlords reluctant to rent to military families.
IMPORTANT: The protections under the SCRA are the minimum protections afforded under federal law. Your individual lease may contain provisions that are more generous to the tenant, and individual state law may have different terms that are more generous to the tenant. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to break a lease due to military service, be sure to look at all three sets of rules to figure out what applies to you.
Who Is Covered?
The SCRA covers active duty service members and activated reservists and members of the National Guard who are serving on federal orders or Title 32 state orders that last for more than 30 days.
The SCRA applies to leases signed by the service member, or signed on the service member’s behalf with a power of attorney. The actual service member must be a party to the lease for the protections of the SCRA to apply. This is why I strongly recommend that spouses do not sign leases alone.
What Situations Are Covered?
Under the SCRA, a service member may terminate a residential lease for three reasons:
- entering active duty,
- permanent change of station (PCS) orders, or
- orders to deploy for a period of not less than 90 days.
One area that frustrates landlords is that the SCRA does not specify that a lease termination must occur within a certain window surrounding the action that permits the termination. For example, a service member may receive orders to move in November and use those orders to terminate a lease in May.
How Does Lease Termination Work Under The SCRA?
The service member must put their request to break the lease in writing and must include a copy of their orders. The earliest termination date for a lease is 30 days after the date on which the next regularly scheduled payment is due. If you submit your request in August, and the next rent is due on 1 September, then you will be responsible for the lease for 30 days from 1 September, which would be 30 September.
The SCRA is an important protection that keeps service members from large financial loss when military service causes them to leave a rented residence before the end of the lease term. Understanding these protections and using them appropriately is good for the tenants and the landlords both.