Understanding the Military Clause
One of the most frequently searched topics on MilitaryByOwner is the military clause, and for good reason. At best, the military clause is confusing; at worst, it offers conflicting information, requiring a trip to the legal office for an interpretation.
Why should landlords care about a military clause?
For potential military landlords, the military clause can present a potential financial problem.
To understand the implications of both the potential problem and why military landlords may feel conflicted about the military clause, it’s important to first understand the military clause.
Does a military clause only apply in the case of war?
A common misunderstanding for landlords is that the military clause only applies if a service member receives deployment orders. This is not the case. The post, What Exactly is a Military Clause?, explains the difference between The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a military clause in a lease, and state military clause laws that supersede those of your lease. Though not a definitive source, you can gather some background information in the post to help better frame your understanding of a military clause for the purpose of your own lease.
Why would a landlord feel conflicted about including a military clause?
While military families can benefit from a military clause when Uncle Sam presents a last-minute change of plans, a military clause can also cause financial problems for landlords.
If, for example, a service member used a military clause to terminate a lease for the purpose of a temporary assignment (TDY/TAD) that exceeded 90 days, he has every right to do so. However, should that lease termination occur outside of the traditional moving season for that community, the landlord will not only have a challenging time finding a new tenant, but also will likely have a longer vacancy period than they would otherwise plan for if they chose to only rent on traditional one-year leases during moving season.
This can create a ripple effect of challenging turnovers, as it also means that once the landlord does find a tenant, it’s likely that the following turnover period for the property will also fall outside of the traditional PCS moving season.
What if there’s no military clause in my lease?
You know that when Uncle Sam says go, then go you must, and it’s important for landlords and tenants alike to realize that the SCRA is a matter of federal law. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows service members to terminate a residential lease if they have written orders for deployments or TDYs longer than 90 days or permanent change of station (PCS). Landlords are required to comply and terminate your lease after you give a written notice of your orders, which will terminate your lease 30 days after the next payment is due. SCRA rights apply to service members as well as to their families.
It’s also important to note that, since the SCRA was enacted, it’s less common for landlords and property managers to include a military clause in a lease. If the lease does reference the military clause, it’s only legal if it follows the SCRA guidelines. As noted in the post, How to Break a Rental Lease for Military Transition,
"The SCRA is a federal law. Any clause that violates a federal law is considered ‘void’ by the courts.If your lease does NOT have a military clause, don’t worry because the SCRA protects your rights whether your rights are written in the lease or not."
For more details about the SCRA and military clause, take a look at these posts:
Note: this article is not intended as legal advice, but is for informational purposes only. Consult state and federal laws and your attorney or base legal advice for legal help.
Original article by Karina Gafford, updated 2018 Jen McDonald.