Formerly called the "Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act", SCRA was updated during the term of President George W. Bush to modernize protections the original 1940 law contained. The Act is intended to provide relief to military members from undue financial and contractual burdens that could affect their readiness and detract from the military mission. It covers a range of financial areas that could impact military members, including those related to leasing of rental property. Military members who lease residential property may terminate their lease under the protection of SCRA with appropriate notice provided they are: 1) transferring to a new duty location due to permanent change of station (PCS) orders; 2) separating from the service due to retirement, medical reasons, or other factors; 3) joined the service after signing a lease and wish to terminate in conjunction with their assignment to a military post, or: 4) assigned to temporary duty in excess of 90 days duration, such as deployment. There are requirements regarding the length of notice given by the service member and proof by provision of a copy of orders or letter from the service member's command is required.
Many leases, particularly in areas such as Hampton Roads that have a high percentage of military renters, will contain language addressing termination due to military orders. These lease sections are commonly referred to as the "military transfer clauses" and typically mimic the state's landlord/tenant law. While SCRA provides protections against penalties for termination and outlines the time elements for notice, the lease and state landlord/tenant law may address other scenarios where termination is available. In addition, they may place other restrictions on the use of orders to terminate a lease. In Virginia for example, the servicemember cannot terminate the lease earlier than 60 days before the date of departure necessary to comply with their orders.
Some common questions regarding military transfer and notice are:
Q: How much notice is required? When should it be given?
A: SCRA stipulates a minimum of thirty (30) days written notice with a copy of orders to be provided to the landlord. The thirty days begins on the next date rent is due, so a tenant who issues notice on the 15th of a month would effectively be obligated for 45 days.
Q: Does temporary deployment entitle a tenant to terminate the lease?
A: Temporary duty in excess of 90 days qualifies a tenant to terminate leases under the provisions of SCRA.
Q: Can a tenant terminate mid-month with orders?
A: The lease can be terminated at any point with mutual agreement of the landlord. However, the minimum notice is 30 days from the next rent due date, meaning tenants are typically responsible for a full month's rent at the end of their tenancy. While the landlord/owner may agree to allow them to stay beyond that point and terminate mid-month, the landlord is not obligated to allow termination prior to the normal notice period.
Q: If a tenant marries a military member while under lease, does that tenant then qualify to terminate if the spouse receives orders?
A: If the spouse is added to the lease and becomes a party to the contract, then yes, the married couple would qualify as any other family to terminate should they received orders of the proper type under SCRA.
Q: My tenants moved in two months ago and now tell me they have orders and want to terminate the lease. Can I withhold a portion of their deposit or charge them for marketing expenses to replace them?
A: No. One of the primary protections of SCRA is to prohibit the imposition of penalties and usurious fees on military members who terminate due to orders.
Q: My lease doesn't have a military clause. Can I still terminate if I receive orders?
A: Yes. The absence of a military clause in the lease does not nullify the protections afforded under SCRA.
Q: My landlord is asking me to sign a waiver of certain provisions of SCRA. Is that legal?
A: Yes, the service member can waive any or all of the provisions of SCRA by mutual agreement with the landlord. While it is not typical for landlords to request a blanket waiver, there are provisions under SCRA that some consider problematic and may request a waiver from the tenant. This most frequently involves the provision of an automatic 90 day stay of proceedings, which can be particularly difficult for the landlord in a case of non-payment.
Landlords who do business in military communities understand the unique challenges service members face and how unsettling it can be to suddenly move to another part of the country or world, uprooting a family and incurring unexpected expenses. Military tenants deserve consideration for their service and compliance with the law(s) that protect them to perform their mission. The property management team at The Real Estate Group stays abreast of current law affecting landlords and tenants, including SCRA and the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA). We understand how important our military community is and work tirelessly to ensure our contracts and practices conform to applicable law. If you need superior property management services, call our team at (757) 512-7225 today.