In the course of your military career, you may be ordered to deploy or relocate with little notice. This can cause some stress in your life as you attempt to prepare for the move as well as tie up loose ends at your old location. If you have a residential or automotive lease, your military service may allow you to break the lease without penalty.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The SCRA is a law that is intended to help protect the legal rights of members called to active duty. The protections under SCRA apply to active duty members of the regular forces, members of the National Guard when serving in an active duty status under federal orders, members of the reserve forces called to active duty and members of the Coast Guard serving on active duty in support of the armed forces. Your protection under SCRA begins on the date you enter active duty and generally terminates within 30 to 90 days after the date of discharge from active duty.
Under SCRA, you may be able to terminate some residential and automotive leases.
Termination of residential leases
If you are just entering service, you may terminate residential leases and rental agreements without penalty under SCRA. To do this, you will have to:
- Show that you entered into the lease before you entered active duty and that you are on active duty for a minimum of 90 days.
- Provide your landlord proper written notice and a copy of military orders, ideally at least 30 days in advance.
If you entered into a lease or rental agreement after you began active duty service, you may still be able to terminate your lease without penalty under SCRA. As an active duty service member, you may qualify under SCRA to end your rental agreements without repercussions if you:
- Received permanent change of station orders or deployment orders for a period of more than 90 days also.
- Provide written notice to your landlord and a copy of your PCS/deployment orders, preferably with at least 30 days notice to your landlord.
If you terminate your lease under the SCRA, your lease will end 30 days after the first date on which the next monthly payment of rent is due. For this reason, you may be required to pay one month of rent after providing notice to your landlord. Additionally, your landlord cannot withhold a security deposit as a "penalty" if you have provided timely written notice. A security deposit can only be withheld to pay for property damages beyond ordinary wear and tear caused by the tenant, or to cover back unpaid rent the tenant owes. If your landlord wrongfully withholds your security deposit, you should immediately seek the advice of a legal assistance attorney.
Termination of automotive leases
SCRA creates protections that allow service members to terminate automobile leases entered into before or during their time on active duty if they meet certain conditions:
- National Guard and Reserve service members can terminate their automotive leases if they are called to active duty for a minimum of 90 days.
- Active duty members can terminate their automotive leases if, after they entered into the lease, they either received military orders for a PCS move from the continental United States (CONUS) to outside the continental United States (OCONUS), a PCS move from an OCONUS state to any location outside of that state, or deployment for a minimum of 90 days.
To terminate an automotive lease, you will need to provide written notice and copy of your orders and return the vehicle no later than 15 days after you deliver the written notice. In regards to terminating an automotive lease, the lease ends the day you return the vehicle.
"Military clause" in your residential lease
In addition to your protections under SCRA, you may want to check to see if your residential lease includes a military clause. A military clause is a statement in a lease that allows the lease to be broken in the event of a call-up to active duty, reassignment or other military-related issues you may encounter. While SCRA requires landlords to allow military personnel out of leases in specific situations, a military clause can provide additional protections for you and your family. Although such clauses are common in housing around military installations, you should read the clause carefully and request a military clause if a lease does not contain one.
Legal assistance with SCRA issues
If you believe your rights are being or have been violated under SCRA, please contact your local legal assistance attorney. You can find the contact information of your local Legal Assistance Office through the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS application, under the program/service "Legal services/JAG" or through the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Legal Services Locator application.
For more information about making a PCS move, and to find out about scams targeting families who are moving, check out these podcasts: Preparing to PCS, Foreclosure Rescue Scams and Foreclosure Rescue Scams; Red Flags and Real Help.