We recently started managing a new property. The owner had lost his tenant and really was not clear how. The tenant was an Army serviceman and was in active reserve. The tenant had been called back into service and needed to immediately relocate. The owner, a very respectful and honest person, allowed the tenant to immediately move out and walk away from the lease. As we discussed what had happened, the owner looked at me and said he had wanted to honor this tenant’s military service. At the same time he had no idea if military service provided the rights the former tenant described. He released the tenant based on his patriotism. An admirable decision, but there is also a very good reason why the tenant’s request would need to be approved.
We confirmed he did the right thing for more reasons than his appreciation of American service members. It is true that military service members are protected if they need to terminate their lease due to a deployment or permanent change of station.
Service Members Civil Relief Act
The federal law that governs these situations, and protects active duty members of the armed forces including activated members of the National Guard , is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The act provides the protection that military service will provide for being able to get out of a housing lease. This law provides several protections, including recognition that activated reservists are likely to receive a lower-income than their normal income, making it difficult to pay current obligations. The protections of the law include:
- reduced interest rates on existing debts
- special treatment for tenants regarding lease cancellations and evictions,
- protection from court actions and repossessions
Military Service That Qualifies
This military service law applies to:
- Active-duty members of the regular forces
- National Guard members serving active duty status under federal orders
- Reservists called to active duty
- Coast Guard members serving on active duty
The SCRA pertains to property owners with a lease (residential or commercial). The tenant has an obligation to pay their rent for 30 days after the next date the rent is due if they provide proper notice to the owner/landlord. For example, if the notice is provided on August 15, and rent is due at the beginning of each month, the tenant is obligated to pay the rent through September.
What Is Proper Notice?
Proper notice to the owner/landlord includes the following:
- Written notice of the tenant’s intent to break the lease and a copy of their military orders.
- Proof that the tenant signed the lease prior to entering active duty service.
- Proof that the tenant will remain on active duty for a minimum of 90 days.
- Notice should be received no fewer than 30 days in advance.
The tenant still has rights under the SCRA if they signed the lease while in active-duty service. In this case proper notice should include:
- Official orders for a permanent change of station or deployment that will last for more than 90 days
- The permanent change of station will cause a move of 35 miles or more from the location of the rental premises or require the service member to occupy government quarters.
- The same mileage measurement or government quarters rules apply if the move is a temporary change for 60 days or more.
- Written documentation of premature discharge or involuntary release from the military.
- These orders should be in writing, preferably with at least a 30-day notice.
Any prepaid rent must be returned to the service-member within 30 days of the termination of the lease.
What About A Service Member Who Is On A Joint Lease?
Service member’s family, legally married spouses, and dependents are also covered by the SRCA. A lease where all tenants are obligated for the full amount of the rent is not protected if the other tenants are not family or dependents. The service member is released but the remaining tenants remain responsible for the full balance of rent.
In a joint lease with unrelated tenants, the landlord is protected for the full amount of the lease. The remaining tenants only option is to request that an additional new tenant be added to their joint lease to replace the tenant who is cancelled due to military service.