Deployment orders? Know your legal rights on leases|
Posted 10/4/2011 Updated 10/4/2011
355th Fighter Wing Legal Office
10/4/2011 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- More than 1,000 Airmen from D-M deployed last year. Without a doubt, deployment has become a part of our normal operations. However, when a member gets orders to deploy, it can raise a lot of questions - including questions about housing. Do you break your apartment lease? Can you break your rental agreement? Can you break your lease if it did not have a military clause? Do you have to pay a termination fee? Knowing your legal rights can help with these questions. Servicemembers who are deploying have specific rights and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010.
Deploying members with orders may terminate a lease early if they receive orders for a deployment with a military unit for at least 90 days. Normally, this even applies to leases that do not have a military termination clause. SCRA is a federal law and applies a military clause regardless of whether one appears in the lease. However, if a lease does not have a military termination clause, members should review all the documents signed regarding the lease very carefully. It is possible to waive this right.
How do you trigger this clause? You should notify your landlord of your deployment as soon as it's reasonable. You must provide this notice in writing and include a copy of your orders. If it is a short notice deployment and you don't have orders yet, a letter from your commander explaining deployment with a military unit for at least 90 days will usually suffice. As a courtesy to the landlord, provide the letter of termination and the copy of your orders (or letter from your commander) to the landlord or landlord's agent as soon as possible. Once you complete those steps, you will be released from the lease 30 days after the next rental payment is due. Be sure and keep copies of all correspondence for your records.
Should you have to pay a termination fee? No. The VBA of 2010 specifically prohibits landlords from imposing termination fees on servicemembers ending a lease under the SCRA. The Act states "the lessor may not impose an early termination charge" on a servicemember for ending a residential lease. Additionally, your landlord cannot withhold your security deposit as a penalty for terminating the lease. It is a misdemeanor for a landlord to hold your deposit or your personal property when you have lawfully terminated the lease under the SCRA.
Many landlords are unaware that SCRA and VBA provide the protections noted above. Their skepticism should not deter you from invoking your rights. Read the law and become familiar with the rights and protections under the SCRA and VBA. Still have questions? Take your lease to a JAG. The legal office is there to help.
You can schedule an appointment for legal assistance at 228-5242. Also, active duty members and their dependants may receive walk-in legal assistance (without an appointment) every Friday from 7:30-8:30 at the D-M Legal Office. Active duty members and their dependants who sign-in by 8:30 will be seen on a first come, first serve basis.