When you rent to a service member, it is important to understand how the SCRA applies to your lease as a landlord or property manager. Violations of the SCRA can result in steep fines and penalties, so staying informed and following the law is in your best interest.
Oftentimes when a member of the military is renting, a military clause is entered into the lease. This military clause can provide them the same protections as the SCRA, but eliminate the need to go through complicated legal proceedings and find legal assistance. It also allows both parties to see the clause beforehand and agree to its terms.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Explained
The SCRA is a federal law that protects service members and in some instances their spouses from certain actions, including eviction, fines and penalties for early termination of leases, motor vehicle repossession and more, under certain circumstances. Normally, for SCRA rights to kick in, the military member must be on active duty for at least 180 days.
Congress’s intent when it created the SCRA was to allow service members to concentrate on their job of serving their country without undue worries about bills being paid back home. However, the SCRA does not exempt military personnel from fulfilling their obligations to pay debt; instead, it creates a process for the debt to be collected.
Branches included in the SCRA
The SCRA covers all branches of the military, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force, Reserves, National Guard and commissioned officers of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, members of the National Guard only receive SCRA protections when the president calls them to duty, not a governor.
When reading about the SCRA, the term active duty will appear frequently. This refers to individuals that are working for the military in a full-time capacity. Active duty members can be deployed at any time.
Military Clause for Renters Who Sign a Residential Lease
When you rent to military personnel who sign a lease, under certain circumstances, they are allowed to terminate the lease without penalty. One of these circumstances is when the service member receives military orders for a permanent change of station. Oftentimes these official military orders can come unexpectedly. Service members must move quickly, sometimes with their family, in order to meet the terms of their deployment orders. For this reason, the SCRA protects these active duty military members and allows them to terminate their lease agreement early.
As a landlord or property manager, you are prohibited from charging the active duty member of the military a fee for breaking the lease before the termination date or from keeping their security deposit. You must allow them to break the lease and you must return their security deposit to them unless you have another valid reason for keeping it, such as damage to the unit. You are allowed to collect the rent for the time military members or their families occupy the unit.
The military can provide its members with legal assistance through the military legal office. They will have expert legal advice if they need to terminate their lease, so it is important for landlords and property managers to understand the law.
Taking Court Action Against Military Members
While the SCRA prohibits taking action against military members who break a lease due to PCS orders, it’s important to understand that the SCRA further has a military clause prohibiting eviction of active duty military members without a court order. This includes eviction of the military member’s family who live in the unit.
Some landlords or property managers may try to reach out to their tenant’s commanding officer, but this is not necessary or helpful.
While you may take other lessees to court to face their civil obligations, when you deal with the military, you must get a court order first. Failing to do so puts you in violation of the SCRA, meaning you can face fines and penalties.
Use the SCRACVS
The best way to avoid violating the SCRA with lease holders is to use the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service for all your military status verifications. Taking a tenant to court who broke a lease without knowing if they are in the military is a risky maneuver. Landlords and property managers should, as a matter of course, perform military status checks on any lease holder they plan to take action against in court. This protects landlords from unwittingly committing SCRA violations.
The SCRACVS provides military status checks for landlords, property managers, lenders and others who do business with members of the military. Our service is fast and efficient — you get results usually within 24 hours. We also offer batch discounts for large-volume searches.
Don’t put yourself in harm’s way — use SCRACVS for all your military status verifications.