Service members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act if they need to end their lease early due to deployment or permanent change of station.
Understanding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
Your protection under the SCRA begins on the date you enter active duty and generally ends between 30 and 90 days after the date of discharge from active duty. This safeguard 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 in support of the armed forces
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Terminating a lease
Under the SCRA, to end a housing lease early without penalty you must:
- Prove you signed the lease before you entered active duty and that you will remain on active duty for a minimum of 90 days.
- Provide your landlord written notice of your intent to end the lease early and a copy of your military orders. Notice should be provided no fewer than 30 days in advance of planned early termination of the lease. Notice must be hand-delivered, or mailed through a private business carrier (such as FedEx, UPS) or using return receipt requested.
If you signed a lease or rental agreement after you began active-duty service, you may still be able to terminate the lease early without penalty if you:
- Received PCS or deployment orders that will last for more than 90 days.
- Provide written notice to your landlord and a copy of your orders, preferably with at least a 30-day notice. Notice must be hand-delivered or mailed using return receipt requested or through a private business carrier.
If you complied with the requirements of the SCRA, your lease should end 30 days after your next monthly rent payment is due.
Terminating an automotive lease
Under the SCRA, National Guard and reserve service members can also end automotive leases early when they are called to active duty for a minimum of 180 days.
A National Guard or reserve member may be protected if they receive:
- Orders for a PCS to relocate the member to a different state
- Military orders for a PCS to move the member outside of the continental United States
- The service member deploys at least 180 days
To terminate an automotive lease early, members need to:
- Give the dealership written notice of the intent to end the lease early and a copy of your military orders. Notice must be hand-delivered or mailed using return receipt requested or through a private business carrier.
- Return the vehicle no later than 15 days after delivery of the written notice.
If you have complied with the requirements of the SCRA, your lease should end the day you return the vehicle.
Knowing if there is a “military clause” in your residential lease
Familiarize yourself with the language in your residential lease. You should review your lease to ensure it does not contain anything you do not fully understand. If it contains confusing provisions, you should seek legal assistance from your nearest military legal office to discuss the lease and associated documents in detail.
Look for separate SCRA waiver documents in the paperwork you receive from your prospective landlord. If you legally waive SCRA rights and protections, then you may not be able to end your lease early if you receive PCS or deployment orders without significant penalties. If you had not waived your rights, you would be entitled to end your lease penalty free.
It is not recommended to sign any documents that take away your rights under the SCRA. If you did sign a SCRA waiver, you may want to consider having the lease updated or contacting your installation legal assistance/judge advocate office for assistance.
Additionally, your lease may include a military clause, which gives you additional protection and allows you to end the lease early under certain circumstances. Such clauses are common in housing leases near military installations. If your lease doesn’t have a military clause, ask your landlord or management company if one can be added.