The Military Clause: a Landlord's Perspective

By Karina Gafford
                                                                                         
                                                                                                                  image credit: Lucian Milasan/Dollar Photo Club
 
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 military landlords care about a military clause?

For potential military landlords, the military clause presents yet another challenging element to managing a property from afar. As a real estate "investor," and I’ll use the term loosely given that the majority of military families either don’t intend to possess a rental investment property (I’m fighting a strong urge to include a hashtag to the effect of PCS Problems here) or they don’t fit the traditional, deep pocketed definition of an investor, the military clause presents 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 recent 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. MilitaryByOwner staff writer Monica Schaefer also shares how a military clause in a lease can help protect the military spouse in the event that a service member is unable to execute the lease termination.
 
Why would a military 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 military families when the family is the landlord.
 
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 military 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 military 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.
 
If you’re the military landlord managing that situation, it’d be easy to feel irritated at the additional financial stress and headaches that managing an unexpected move may cause your family. And yet, as a military family who may face the same situation, you’d expect that your landlord would treat you graciously despite the fact that you’re breaking a lease, right? If that same military family received extended TDY orders for the service member, for example, then the spouse and children might also avail of the opportunity to break a lease and go spend time with family. You’d offer your one month’s notice, pay the final month of rent, and head home, expecting your security deposit (minus expenses or damages) would soon follow.
 
So, even though you may not be happy that a tenant may terminate a lease at a less-than-ideal period of the year, know that another military landlord would do the same for you. Knowing this may help you better muster the grace you’ll need to handle an inconvenient turnover.
 
Bruce Ailion, a Remax broker in Atlanta who works with many military families, shared with MilitaryByOwner that military landlords shouldn’t worry too much about renting to other military families because the military clause is not regularly called into effect. He said, "This [using the military clause] only occurs occasionally in my business. We like renting to our military service men and women…We accept the military clause."

Ailion also raises an important point that military landlords can recognize all too well—"We understand that when the order to go comes in, it is not optional and often on short notice...For us and our owners we recognize we are not in harm’s way because of the service they provide. Accommodating their orders is the least we can do."
 
If you’re a military landlord, you know that Ailion is correct; when Uncle Sam says go, then go you must. If you want other military landlords, or any landlord who chooses to rent to military families for that matter, to respect your need to terminate your lease with a mere month’s notice, then spread forth the military family love karma by making sure that your lease includes a military clause, too.