• Know rights, responsibilities when breaking lease

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  • Capt. Jessica Hom | Fort Leavenworth Legal Assistance Office
    Many believe that the security blanket of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act will protect any military tenant when moving out of a rental home. Unfortunately, this is not entirely so. Before deciding to break a lease, here are a few things to keep in mind:
    Does your move qualify? Section 535 of the SCRA allows a service member to terminate a residential lease upon receipt of permanent change of station orders or deployment orders for a period of a least 90 days. For example, if a service member has a year-long lease — say from May 1 to April 30 — but receives PCS orders in December, the federal law allows the service member to end the lease early because of the needs of his or her military service.
    How much notice do I give? To exercise the right to end a lease early, the service member must submit a written notice and a copy of the military orders or a letter from a commanding officer to the landlord. After submission of the notice and orders, the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due. For example, a service member receives orders to PCS from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Hood. If she gives her landlord notice of her intent to terminate her lease and a copy of her orders Dec. 15, her lease will not terminate under the SCRA until Jan. 31.
    State laws may further help service members by allowing for additional exemptions. For example, Kansas allows for the termination of a month-to-month lease with only 15 days written notice by a tenant when the tenant is in the military on active duty and termination of the tenancy is necessitated by military orders.
    Missouri, more generously, allows active-duty military members to end a lease if they receive PCS orders, temporary duty orders at least 25 miles away for more than 90 days, are discharged or released from active duty, or are ordered to live in government housing.
    Virginia allows a service member to terminate his or her rental agreement if the member has PCS orders only 35 miles away from their location of the unit.
    Be sure to check the state laws where the residential lease applies to see if additional protections are offered.
    What about retirement orders? Arguably, the SCRA lease exemption should apply. The Joint Travel Regulation defines a PCS as a change from the last permanent duty station to home upon “discharge, resignation or separation from the service under honorable conditions” and/or “retirement.” However, the JTR is only persuasive in arguing that retirement orders should apply, not binding under federal law. Therefore, there is some uncertainty as to how the courts will apply the SCRA under these situations.
    Service members who must break a lease early and have questions about the process are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Fort Leavenworth Legal Assistance Office. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 1-4 p.m. Wednesday. Call 684-4944 to make an appointment.
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