Can An Active Duty Servicemember Cancel A Lease?

Military Breaking Lease
Military Breaking Lease

Few individuals are more likely to accidentally run afoul of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act than landlords. A number of statutes under this law put a thumb on the scale of interactions between servicemembers and landlords in favor of the former group.

While renting to members of the armed forces can be remarkably smooth due to this group’s higher level of discipline, steady income, and professional need to maintain good financial standing, it can also go astray for landlords unaware of the provisions in the SCRA.

Breaking a lease when dealing with service members can be expensive for a landlord, primarily because it involves getting the unit ready for re-rental and finding a replacement tenant. However, this is a common scenario they’d have to deal with when renting out their properties to active duty service members.

Early Termination of Leases

Many landlords know that there are certain situations in which a servicemember can break a lease without incurring a penalty. However, many are less clear on the specifics of these situations, which exposes them to significant risk.

A full version of the section of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act pertaining to the termination of leases can be found at the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute.

If the lease was signed before the lessee’s entry into military service, the servicemember has the right to terminate the lease at any time after their entry.

If the lease was signed after the lessee’s entry into military service, the servicemember is bound by the lease as normal unless he or she receives military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of 90 days or more.

Terminating a Housing Lease

Terminating a Housing Lease

According to the SCRA, a service member is eligible to end a housing lease early without penalty by providing the following:

  • There should be evidence that the service member signed the lease or rental agreement before receiving their active duty status. Their military clause should state that they’d remain on active duty for at least 90 days.
  • A written notice of that military personnel’s intent to have the lease or rental agreement ended early and a copy of their military orders. The notice should be submitted at least 30 days before their planned early lease termination. It should be highlighted that the lease must be hand-delivered or mailed through a private business carrier (such as FedEx or UPS) or using the return receipt requested.

Suppose an active duty military member signed a lease or rental agreement after joining active duty service. In that case, they’re still eligible to end a lease agreement early without penalty if the following applies to them:

  • They receive deployment or PCS orders that will last for at least 90 days.
  • They can apply to provide written notice to the landlord of their intent with at least a 30-day notice. That notice must be delivered by hand or mailed using the return receipt requested or through a private business carrier.

If these requirements are satisfied, the residential lease should end 30 days after the date when their next monthly rent payment is due.

Terminating an Automotive Lease

Terminating an Automotive Lease

According to the SCRA, reserve service members and National Guard members can also end automotive leases early if they’re called to active duty for at least 180 days.

Here are the requirements for National Guard and reserve service members to activate these SCRA protections:

  • Permanent change of station or PCS orders specify that they must relocate states
  • Military orders for a PCS move that person outside the continental United States
  • Orders that this person is to be deployed for at least 180 days

If they’re able to provide these requirements, they’re required to do the following for the SCRA benefit to be honored:

  • Given the dealership written notice of the person’s intent to end their automotive lease early and a copy of their military orders. The notice must be delivered by land, by mail using the return receipt requested, or through a private business carrier.
  • Return the vehicle in the lease no later than 15 days after delivery of the written notice.

If all requirements are met, the lease should end when the car is returned.

Manner of Termination

Luckily for landlords, servicemembers cannot cancel the lease outright. A process must be followed. The service member must deliver written notice of the termination and a copy of his or her military orders to the lessor, the lessor’s grantee, or the lessor’s agent. This can be accomplished by hand delivery, private business carrier, or mail.

After delivering due notice, the lease is terminated effective 30 days after the next rental payment due date, assuming the lease provides for monthly payments. In any other type of lease, termination is effective on the last day of the month after the notice is delivered. This is intended to give the landlord sufficient time to find new renters.

Unpaid rent is still due and will be paid on a prorated basis. The lessor can’t impose an early termination charge, but other obligations by the lease must still be paid. This includes reasonable charges for excess wear or damage. Conversely, rent paid in advance for a period after the effective termination date must be paid back to the lessor within 30 days.

What Should Active Duty Service Members do to Break a Lease Early?

Several requirements should be satisfied before an active duty military member can break a lease early without penalties.

First, service members should ensure their name is stipulated in the lease agreement. The house or apartment shouldn’t solely be under the spouse’s or other family member’s name.

Upon receiving their orders for deployment, military members should provide written notice and give the landlord a copy of their orders. These documents can be obtained from their military base.

Service members’ methods of contacting their landlords to inform them of their intention to end a lease early matter, too. Simply notifying their landlord orally is not enough. The documents should be submitted in written format and formally acknowledged by the landlord.

Who is Qualified for SCRA Protections?

SCRA Protections for military members

It should be highlighted that not all military community members are covered by SCRA protections. Only service members and military families must move because the SCRA covers military orders.

Moreover, this federal law only applies to military reservists or members of the National Guard who receive a mobilization order from the President calling them to active duty. The SCRA doesn’t cover orders from one’s governor.

In addition, the two weeks the National Guard and reservists spend on annual training are considered active duty.

What Else Should Landlords Know?

First, it is essential to know that service members’ dependents are covered under the same protections. For example, if a military member is on active duty and their dependent is included on a lease, the servicemember and the dependent can terminate the lease. Knowing that someone is only considered a dependent if the servicemember is paying for more than half of their living costs may be useful.

It is also essential to know that a servicemember’s trip home at the end of a service period is also considered a permanent change of station. Under the Joint Federal Travel Regulation Ch. 5 U5000 B., honorable discharge, release from active duty, transfer to the reserve, retirement, and temporary disability retirement are all considered a permanent change of station. As such, they are covered under the SCRA.

Finally, landlords should be aware that failing to comply with this part of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a misdemeanor. Holding, seizing, detaining, or interfering with the removal of the personal effects of an active duty service member can result in a fine or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

For further information, visit the New SCRA Lease Termination Law.

Getting Legal Assistance for Active Duty Service Members

In case active duty members have any questions or concerns about ending their residential lease early, it would be ideal for them to confer with their local legal services or JAG offices. Receiving expert advice can help them navigate through the process smoothly.

What if there’s a military clause in the contract?

Once a service member receives a residential lease, they must review the language in the document. They should review the legal document in case it contains portions they don’t fully understand.

There might be a separate military clause or SCRA waiver document in the paperwork the landlord requires one to sign and submit. A person who legally waives their SCRA rights and protections may be unable to end their lease early even if they receive deployment orders.

That’s why it wouldn’t be ideal for service members to sign waivers that would remove their rights under the SCRA. If the military personnel signed a waiver, it might be ideal to have the lease updated or contact one’s installation legal assistance/judge advocate office for assistance.

A military clause is quite common for residential areas near an installation base. That’s why service members should be vigilant when dealing with paperwork.


The SCRA can assist service members and impact some businesses. However, the penalties for non-compliance are expensive. Verifying one’s active duty status is the key to breaking one’s lease early. We at SCRACVS can help landlords and other businesses verify whether the person they’re dealing with is on active duty. Click here to verify active duty status.


Can the military get you out of a lease?

Yes, getting out of a lease is possible, but proper protocol must be followed. People called to active duty are allowed to end a lease early without penalties if they can meet the requirements for SCRA protections.

What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

Also known as the SCRA, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides legal and financial protections to active duty service members so they can focus on their duty to the nation.

How do I check my active military status?

You can check your active duty status through the Defense Manpower Data Center’s (DMDC) Military Verification service. Alternatively, you can try the services of third-party companies like SCRACVS, which can efficiently verify your active duty status.

Does SCRA apply to spouses?

The SCRA offers military spouses several protections, but not necessarily all the benefits that are given to service members. For example, they can end a lease early without penalties if the service member is a co-signee in the contract.

How do you break a lease with SCRA?

Yes, you can break a lease early if you submit all the required documents as stipulated in the SCRA. You should provide written notice of your intent to break a lease early and provide deployment orders to the landlord.

Does SCRA apply to all leases?

Not all types of leases are covered by the SCRA. The SCRA stipulates that this benefit applies to residential, professional, business, agricultural, or similar properties.

Is there a termination fee for SCRA?

The SCRA doesn’t permit landlords to charge penalty fees to active-duty military tenants.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.