You don’t always know when you’ll receive orders to PCS, so when it comes to signing a rental lease, you have concerns. Will you receive new orders and be forced to break the contract? Will you be penalized for early termination?
These are valid questions and concerns that need to be addressed.
You’ve heard about the military clause and the SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act), but do you know what they mean and how they protect you? Familiarizing yourself with these rights will help you in times of transition.
Understanding the Military Clause
The military clause is written into many rental lease agreements to protect service members and their families from rental penalties associated with active duty orders. It typically states that if the service member receives active duty orders to PCS before the lease is complete, they can break their rental agreement.
For example, if you sign a year lease but receive PCS orders just six months in, you can present your orders to your landlord for early termination, expect your security deposit back, and walk away without penalty.
Remember, the military clause is not there so that if you find another rental you like better you can flash your orders and move into a different home. It’s there to protect you only if you receive written active duty orders to another location for more than 90 days.
Understanding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The SCRA is intended to help relieve the stress associated with civil obligations for all active duty service members, reservists, and National Guard members while on active duty.
Different from the military clause, the SCRA covers far more than early termination on your rental property. The Act is very thorough and provides protection for outstanding credit card debt, mortgage payments, pending trials, taxes, and termination of lease.
Like the military clause, under the SCRA you may terminate, without penalty, residential and business leases that you entered into prior to joining the military. You may also terminate residential and business leases entered into while in military service if you receive orders to deploy for a period of at least 90 days, or orders for a permanent change of station.
However, you can’t simply show your orders and move out that day. Termination becomes effective on the last day of the month following the month in which proper notice is delivered.
For example, if the lease requires a yearly rental and you provide proper notice to your landlord July 15th, your effective termination date would be August 31st and you would need to pay rent through that date.
Is the military clause necessary?
The SCRA protects active duty service members against early termination penalties when given orders to PCS. Therefore, it’s not required that you have a military clause written into your lease.
However, a military clause indicates that your landlord is aware that early termination is a possibility and, therefore, may be more understanding. Because of this, it may make breaking a lease easier and overall less frustrating. But it is necessary? No.
For example, my husband and I received PCS orders for six to eight months, or until the proper training is completed. What do these mean? It means that we could be here for any length of time. So do we search for a six-month lease and gamble that the landlord will let us extend our stay, or do we find a year lease and terminate early if necessary? Unfortunately, that latter is the only one that guarantees a roof over our heads and doesn’t risk us getting pushed out in the middle of our orders.
So let’s say you signed a two-year lease without a military clause, but nine months into the lease you receive active duty PCS orders. You put in your termination notice as soon as possible and assure your landlord that you will pay rent till the effective termination date. It’s possible your landlord will fight you on this.
Should your landlord choose to not honor your rights under the SCRA, the Department of Justice advises you contact your nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office to see if the SCRA applies to your particular situation. Dependents of service members can also contact or visit local military legal assistance offices where they reside. In order to have your SCRA matter reviewed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), you must first seek the assistance of your military legal assistance office. If that office cannot resolve the complaint, it may choose to forward the complaint to the DOJ. The DOJ then will review the matter to determine whether more action is appropriate.
As you look for your next rental, check for the military clause in your lease. If there isn’t one, talk to the landlord about writing it in. At the risk of sounding pushy, you might try to explain up front that unexpected orders can happen and that being prepared can save frustrations later down the road.
By Danielle Keech