SCRA clarifies the rights of military renters



by Becca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs


3/15/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As summer approaches, the cold is not the only thing leaving. Many service members studying at the Air University will move for permanent changes of station and may wonder how to get out of their 12-month leases signed during their stay.

Signing a lease for a rental property can run into some complications if one does not prepare beforehand, according to Capt. Noel Horton, chief of general law at Maxwell's legal center.

The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act, signed into law in 2003, provides all military members renters' rights along with other protections.

However, the SCRA can often be applied incorrectly. The legal center receives two or more cases a month, according to Horton, from service members seeking advice on how the SCRA can help relieve them from the liabilities that come from breaking a 12-month lease after staying only 10 months.

"It's not that they use the act incorrectly; they don't understand what the act says," said Horton.

The act provides allowances for those who must unexpectedly PCS or deploy for more than 90 days to withdraw from a residential lease after the contract has been signed.
Horton suggests that military members who plan to rent an apartment or a house should make sure such a provision is already in the lease. This way the landlord is made aware of what the SCRA provides.

However, he explained that a broken lease would not be covered by the SCRA if the service member knows in advance that he or she will be staying for a shorter time than the term of the lease.

In such cases, service members should not sign the lease in the first place.

"If they know they are going to PCS in six months, and they want to sign a lease, it should be a six-month lease and make that very clear to the landlord," said Horton. "If the landlord is not happy with that, then it would be up to the service member at that point to rent from someone else or sign for six months and do a sub-lease for the additional time, if the lease allows."

In cases where the termination of a lease is allowed, service members must provide their landlord with a copy of their orders and a written termination notice. According to the SCRA, the earliest termination date for leases with monthly payments is 30 days after the date on which the next rental payment is due. For all other leases, termination would take effect on the last day of the month after the termination notice was delivered to the landlord.

The legal center can review leases before they are signed and answer questions, said Horton.

"My biggest advice is to come with the question as early as possible," Horton said. "If service members even have a hint that they might have an issue where SCRA is going to protect them, whether it is signing a lease for a house or whether it's an auto lease or they get that court document from somebody, just come by and ask one of our attorneys, and we'll be more than happy to explain what the next step is. We want to be able to help Airmen before it becomes a problem."

The legal office is open for appountments from 9-10 a.m. Mondays and for walk-ins from 3-4 p.m. Thursdays.